It was a welcomed return to (somewhat) normalcy for the St. Anthony’s girls soccer team.
The Friars, winners of the last three CHSAA state championships, were anxious to return to the field for competition — nearly a month after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo allowed varsity sports to resume Sept. 21.
And although St. Anthony’s started a little slow, the Friars returned to their winnings ways with a 4-2 victory over Sacred Heart in a CHSAA girls soccer matchup Wednesday evening, in front of no fans as players and coaches wore masks at St. Anthony’s High School.
Sacred Heart opened the scoring with the first of two goals by Beth McDermott, taking a 1-0 lead with 23:39 remaining in the first half. But St. Anthony’s answered with two goals over a span of less than 80 seconds to take a 2-1 advantage with 7:27 remaining in the first half.
"Sacred Heart came out very aggressive and very fast in the beginning and we were caught a little off guard," said Olivia Perez, a junior forward/midfielder. "They scored the first goal and once that was over, we came back together and came back with two, so that was pretty crazy. But overall, it felt pretty normal even with the masks on."
All players, coaches and anyone else at the field had their temperature taken and had to answer a COVID-19 questionnaire. All players and coaches had a mask on their face during the game, but as per state guidelines, they were able to remove the masks if they were unable to tolerate it during play.
"I’m just really thankful that we, as a school, can all play together," said midfielder Daniela Monzon. "I’m just really glad to be back and playing games and that’s all that really matters to me."
Perez scored St. Anthony’s first goal, crashing the net following a diving save off a shot by Ava Nielsen with 8:40 remaining in the first half. Then, Emily Riggins scored on a 20-yard free kick to give the Friars a 2-1 lead with 7:27 remaining in the opening half.
"I knew I needed to relax and just take a breath and focus on the ball," Riggins said. "Not my surroundings, not the wall, and just place it in."
Silvana Bartolotta scored off an assist from Perez to give St. Anthony’s a 3-1 advantage less than five minutes into the second half. But McDermott answered with her second goal for Sacred Heart off a rebound following a diving save with 30:26 remaining in the contest.
Perez, who finished with two goals and an assist, added the game’s final score off an assist from Ashley Kozlowski with 3:06 remaining in the contest.
The Friars graduated their top three goal scorers from last season, and Perez is ready to fill that production.
"She’s just so good with the ball at her feet," coach Sue Alber said. "She’s so quick, so technical, and she just causes a lot of havoc to other teams when she’s dribbling at them. She can really score from anywhere inside the 18 (yard box) and she’s able to create a lot of things for her teammates."
And after months of wondering if they’d be able to play or not, St. Anthony’s was just happy to be back on the field.
"You go back two months and they didn’t think they’d have a season," Alber said. "And just in general in their life, there’s been so many unknowns and uncertainties, so this is a good outlet for them. And while a lot of them have club (teams), playing for your school is definitely a different experience."
"It was amazing," Perez said. "Especially under the lights — because we don’t get to do that very often — it was great to get back on the field. Especially with everything that’s been happening."