With Islip, Port Jefferson and St. Anthony’s girls soccer teams all coming off state championships, the returning players understand the expectations put upon them. Other teams in their leagues will bring their best games and use the matchups as a measuring stick.
And the champions embrace it.
“What really gets us going is we know a lot of other teams — now that we have a state championship last year — that we have a target on our back,” Islip’s Lyndsey Sparks said.
“We kind of thrive off the competition,” she continued. “It might sound stupid but a lot of teams hate us so we’re kind of like almost excited to prove to them that we’re something to be scared of.”
Islip (14-2-1) captured its first Class A state championship last year with a pair of 1-0 victories in the state tournament. Port Jefferson (14-2) controlled Suffolk VII, winning its final 14 games of the season en route to its first Class C state crown. St. Anthony’s (12-1-2) continued its trend of domination, taking its second-straight CHSAA state title in a 4-1 win over Christ the King.
Sparks earned Most Valuable Player of the state tournament, scoring both goals in the Buccaneers’ 1-0 victories.
“That was really surreal,” Sparks said. “We had a lot of good players on the team that I really wasn’t expecting it and when they said my name, I kind of froze for a second. There’s a picture of me from when I won it and my face is in dead shock.”
But this season, Islip will have another force in Hannah Franco, who suffered an ankle injury in last year’s Long Island championship game and missed the remainder of the postseason. She admitted it wasn’t easy watching her teammates from the sideline but is ready to return to the field and contribute.
“It definitely was a struggle watching,” Franco said, “but I definitely knew my team had it in them and I just counted on them to bring home the championship.”
On the CHSAA side, the Friars graduated a pair of first-team All-Long Island selections, but reloads again in its quest for a third-straight state championship led by Francesca Picicci, Sabrina Cristodero and Jackie Louro.
“It’s going to be really tough coming back, especially since we’ve lost a couple of really good seniors,” said Picicci, who had nine goals and six assists last season. “But we still have really good juniors that came up with us so I’m really excited to start the season.”
Picicci and Cristodero said they dedicated last season’s championship to St. Anthony’s teacher Brother Cletus, who passed away Summer 2015, and plan devote this year to him again.
Port Jefferson returns Jillian Colucci, the New York State Class C Player of the Year and Newsday All-Long Island selection who had 18 goals and 12 assists last season. The Royals also feature Clare O’Connor — who led Long Island with 41 points — and Brittany Fazin on a senior-laden team looking for back-to-back championships.
“We have a lot of confidence but we need to remember there are other good teams and any given day, any team can come in and win,” Colucci said. “So we just need to be prepared for every game and take every game like it’s the championship.”
O’Connor said that senior leadership has helped keep everyone motivated entering the season. But, like the rest of the returning champions, she understands even a team filled with talented seniors that rolled through its league last season doesn’t guarantee success.
“There’s always challenges,” O’Connor said. “I think we all know that everyone’s coming out to get us. We always have that in the back of our mind. We know it’s not going to be easy but our goal this year is to get back to states.”