Jessica Garziano can dazzle a crowd with her ability to dribble through defenders, but she finished Friday’s girls soccer game with her fundamentals.
The Half Hollow Hills East senior spent much of the contest generating audible reactions from her teammates on the bench and fans in the crowd as she weaved her way through defenders to get the offense going.
“Ever since I was eight years old I would always go play in my backyard, go to practice, you do skills for an hour and a half and it helps you in the long run,” Garziano said. “Without that, I wouldn’t be the player I am today.”
And when she was called upon, Garziano was there to display her power within her finesse. After Elizabeth Gordin drew a foul in the box, Garziano delivered the game’s lone goal on a penalty kick with 35:21 remaining in the second half as host Half Hollow Hills East defeated Smithtown West, 1-0, in Suffolk I.
“I’ve taken many in the past,” Garziano said, “and I knew this was one I had to finish and luckily I did.”
But one of the first things noticed about Garziano’s game is the smoothness she displays with the ball at her feet.
“She does it with such ease,” coach Tom Ciolfi said. “She knows which way a player is going and she just goes the other way. She’s a special player.”
But Garziano, a senior midfielder committed to St. John’s, doesn’t think about generating a crowd reaction in the midst of a move. Although it's often what follows.
“I think it’s just easy for me,” she said. “I don’t even notice. It’s natural. It’s fun.”
Combined with a strong defensive performance from a backline of Avery Francis, Olivia Teng, Madison Lentz and Maya Teng holding a tough Smithtown West attack generating multiple free kicks in a physical game, Hills East improved to 2-0 in league.
And when needed, Morgan Novikoff was there in net with 14 saves, none bigger than her diving stop with 7:45 remaining to rob Smithtown West (1-1) of a chance to tie the score.
“I saw the forward get it and I knew she was going to either shoot it to the bottom-right corner or bottom left, and I saw her hips turn and I just dove,” Novikoff said. “I took a chance and luckily the ball was bouncing, I tapped it right out.”
“That was a game-saving save because that could have been 1-1,” Ciolfi said. “And you never know what happens after that.”