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The intense life of a high school soccer goalkeeper

Newfield goalie Alexis Saladino makes a diving save

Newfield goalie Alexis Saladino makes a diving save against Bay Shore on Oct. 24, 2016. Credit: Daniel De Mato

The responsibilities of a goalkeeper go beyond making sure the ball doesn’t go into the net — such as alerting defenders about charging opponents — but protection is always No. 1.

“Pretty much being a keeper, you can’t make any mistakes,” Newfield’s Alexis Saladino said. “A mistake never goes unnoticed because it pretty much will end up in the goal.”

Saladino, a senior entering her fifth varsity season, knows this as well as any keeper on Long Island. She has started every game in net for the Wolverines since earning the position as an eighth grader, coach Domenik Veraldi said, and Newfield’s win total has improved each season during her tenure.

“I always tell her,” Veraldi said, “it’s not a coincidence.”

Nor is it coincidental that a strong keeper is the key to many of the top girls soccer programs on Long Island.

Massapequa, the five-time defending Nassau AA champion, returns Haylee Poltorak in net and Shoreham-Wading River returns with high expectations largely because of senior Lydia Kessel entering her fourth season in goal.

Poltorak is vocal as a keeper, always focusing on a positive mindset, regardless of the pressure of the game. She loves the demand that comes with the position.

“You’re basically the commander of the team,” said Poltorak, a senior committed to Binghamton. “You see the entire field. You tell them really what’s going on, what to do.”

Kessel said she started playing in front of the net at age 6, calling herself a “stereotypical chubby kid” who didn’t excel as a field player. And now, she said nothing beats the feeling of flying through the air or diving full extension for a save.

“Sometimes you, like, black out and after you’ll see a picture or a video and be like ‘How did I do that?’ Kessel said. “It just goes so fast, but there are certain times it feels like slow motion and it’s just amazing.”

Pressure is just a part of the job for keepers. There’s no escaping the feeling of being alone in the net for a breakaway or a penalty kick. But for Saladino, dealing with that intensity on varsity since age 12 almost has become second nature.

“Being keeper is definitely a lot of pressure, but for me, I like that pressure,” she said. “I feel like I handle it well and I like having the responsibility of the team’s final result in the game. It’s pretty much in my hands what’s going to happen overall and I like the challenge it gives me.”

And a goalkeeper’s best friend is often a strong, experienced defense, which Kessel has had with the Wildcats.

She said this year’s defense is talented, but younger, and Kessel wants to show her talents while possibly facing more shots, adding that when she was younger she had a very strong defense in front of her. “I’m excited to see [how things go] with a new defense,” she said.

Long Island has plenty of strong goalkeepers this season, including seniors Vanessa Cole (St. Anthony’s) and Julianna King (Wantagh) along with juniors Sydney Silverman (Wheatley) and Sara Micheli (Sacred Heart) and East Meadow sophomore Stephanie Sparkowski.

Kessel, committed to the University of Vermont, said it’s bittersweet entering her senior season, remembering all the thrills of making a play in net that leaves other speechless.

“When I’m on the ground and I get up after a save, you’ll see in pictures or videos, I just can’t help but smile,” Kessel said. “It’s just so much fun. Even in practice. Just certain saves give you a rush.”


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