The Smithtown West girls soccer team is doubling down.
With 21 players returning from last season’s Long Island Class AA championship team, the Bulls aren’t looking to simply defend their crown. They believe they’re primed for another state championship run as well. Smithtown West lost in the state semifinals in Cortland last season.
“The leadership we have, we know we’re driving the ship and can get back to that spot we were last year,” said Emily Leverich, a senior forward and captain. “It’s pressure that we’re putting on ourselves, but nothing that will affect us negatively. Hopefully, it’ll be a positive reinforcement.”
Each of Smithtown West’s projected 11 starters saw on-field action last season, giving them a chance not just to play in big games, but win them. Coach Rob Schretzmayer believes that experience will prove invaluable as the Bulls adjust to the target on their back as the reigning champions. Last season's Long Island Class AA championship was the first in program history.
“They were all part of the process,” Schretzmayer said. “Every single one of those players was a field contributor and got pretty good minutes last year. No one’s a newbie on the field.”
Schretzmayer said Smithtown West comes into the season brimming with confidence, sparked by its three captains. In addition to Leverich, seniors Jillian Meaney, a center midfielder, and Nicholle Marshall, a center back, have provided vocal leadership.
“[Nicholle] is a rock in the back and Emily up top, she really locks in,” Meaney said. “During the offseason, knowing that we were able to get that far last year and now that we have a better group coming in, I think that pushed us a lot more.”
Meaney said she thought the team was already working “really well together.” The Bulls are looking to build off a group that lost only two games last season, with 14 shutouts in 21 games.
But while Smithtown West hopes its defense will be the foundation of another championship, Leverich pointed out the potential of the Bulls’ top line. The Bulls averaged just over two goals per game last season, led by Leverich, an All-Long Island selection who finished with eight goals and six assists. Now, she said, the Bulls are looking to post even bigger numbers.
“Our top line is very athletic and we all have a desire to be goal-getters,” Leverich said. “We’re always attacking and hungry for those goals, so I think all of us have that mentality and all of us sharing that same trait helps characterize us as that speedy, fast, goal-getting team.”
For Smithtown West, it’s a championship or bust. The Bulls are looking to add another chapter to the program’s history book.
“We had a great run [last season], but, like coach said first day of tryouts, we have unfinished business in Cortland,” Marshall said. “We want to try to get right back up there and finish it.”
Of course, there are plenty of teams in Suffolk determined to unseat Smithtown West.
Sachem East entered last season’s Suffolk Class AA tournament as the top seed, but lost to ninth-seeded Ward Melville in the quarterfinals. Now, senior midfielder Gabrielle Richetti said the team is primed for a deep playoff run, building off the frustration of last season.
“Last year we surprised a lot of people and this year, even though we’re young, we have just as much talent, if not more,” said Richetti, who had a goal and five assists last season. “We know we have the potential and we know what it takes now.”
Northport lost just one game in the regular season, but lost on penalty kicks to Half Hollow Hills East in the semifinals. Still, senior Nina Kezys said the team comes into the season with “high expectations” and confidence in the roster's depth.
“There’s room for improvement,” she said. “But we have the pieces. It’s going to show on the field.”
Hills East is looking to return to the AA final, ready to avenge a 1-0 loss to Smithown West.
Islip captured its first county title since 2015 last season, defeating Shoreham-Wading River 1-0 before falling to Valley Stream South in the Long Island championship. Sophomore striker Madison Micheletti said she thinks the team “can go even further this year.”
Shoreham-Wading River, Eastport-South Manor and Hauppauge will also look to compete for a county championship, while Jordan Levy (21 goals, 14 assists) and Carly Bloom (13 goals, 11 assists) return to the Half Hollow Hills West lineup. The pair finished last season as the top two scorers in Suffolk.
Mattituck/Greenport/Southold and Babylon both have their sights on a return to the final. The teams were co-champs last year, with the North Fork squad advancing to the Long Island championship on penalty kicks.