The Ward Melville players and coaches understood the challenge they were walking into, but they possessed a confidence the result would be different than maybe some expected.
When Ward Melville met Massapequa in the girls soccer Long Island Class AA championship Saturday evening, the Patriots had a few disadvantages. First, the game was played on Massapequa’s home field. Then there’s the name on the jersey of Massapequa — and that program’s history alone can psych a team out. Massapequa entered Saturday as the defending state champions and winners of seven of the last eight Long Island championship games.
But the Patriots believed in themselves — even if others didn’t. Their confidence was justified as Ward Melville defeated Massapequa, 3-1, in the Long Island Class AA championship/Southeast Regional Final at Berner Middle School.
“We went in thinking, ‘Let’s prove everyone wrong,’” midfielder Marissa Tonic said. “And that’s what we did.”
Ward Melville (15-0-3) advances to its first state Class AA semifinal in program history and meets Monroe-Woodbury at Tompkins Cortland Community College Saturday at 3 p.m.
“Going into this game, we were like, ‘We can’t let them keep going to states. We have to be the team to break that,’” forward Peyton Costello said. “That was going to make this Long Island championship even more special for us.”
And Costello was a major reason for Ward Melville winning the title. She had two goals, including the game’s first score less than six minutes into the contest to take a 1-0 lead with 34:12 left in the first half. Ward Melville wanted to strike first.
“It’s probably the most important thing in a game,” said senior goalkeeper Elyse Munoz, who had five saves. “You score early, you get in their head and you can keep playing your game and that’s exactly what we did today.”
Tonic added the second goal at the net off Aliyah Leonard’s deflected shot following a cross from Amelia Pirozzi with 17:09 left in the first half.
“I knew I needed to set the tone and get that second goal to make everyone relax,” Tonic said. “It was the best feeling. We’ve just been wanting this for so long and we finally got there.”
Costello headed in Ward Melville’s final goal off a rebound with 23:27 left in the second half. Massapequa (16-2-2) scored on a penalty kick from Shae Brennan with 13:11 left in the contest.
“I felt another goal coming and I was just happy I was in the right place to tap it in,” Costello said. “After I was like, ‘We got this.’”
“They showed this composure and this calm confidence that they knew they could do this,” coach John Diehl said. “They are a talented group of players that play at a high level and they achieved it today.”
Diehl said he was receiving “good luck” messages all week, seemingly with the undertone that it would likely be the Patriots’ final game of the season. But Diehl knew they could win and he was proud of the way his team played against the powerhouse program.
“They believed in it, they believed they could do it,” Diehl said. “There was no, ‘Oh we are just going there to play Massapequa.’ With the history they have, there could be this fear of this huge opponent but they went in there with confidence.”
The backline, including Emma Ward, Gabrielle Walker and a pair of sisters in Grace and Gabrielle Justiniano, had a strong game to limit Massapequa’s chances in front of Munoz.
“The feeling is surreal,” Munoz said. “I couldn’t have even imagined this moment happening and we just won the freaking Long Island championship.”