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Michele Aponte

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Port Jefferson's Gina Lucero attempts to deflect a Babylon pass. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Port Jefferson’s girls soccer team came close to racking up two 6-0 losses to start the season, but Hailey Hearney had other plans against Babylon Sept. 5, breaking away with the ball with four minutes left to score the first goal for the Royals in 155 minutes of gameplay during a 6-1 loss.

Port Jefferson’s Reece Koban sends the ball into play. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“So happy, I’m thrilled,” Port Jefferson head coach Michele Aponte said of her team breaking the ice. “There’s a lot of nerves, because there’s high expectations for them. To not get on the board with Southold last week was a little disheartening, so I think it helps boost their confidence. It may only be one, but they see that score on the board.”

Eyes are on Port Jefferson after back-to-back state titles in 2015-16 and a state semifinal appearance the year prior. The Royals are a much different team than the last few seasons, with just three returning varsity players — all non-starters — from last year’s squad.

“Because they’re new to working together as a team, they need to build that trust with one another, whereas the past few years those girls have been playing together for seasons and seasons, since they were little kids,” Aponte said. “They need to talk to each other, they need to communicate. They have to learn how to trust one another, telling each other if there’s a man on them, calling that they’re open — that’s lacking right now.”

During the first half of the game against Babylon, Port Jefferson eased its way into becoming familiar with its foe.

“We didn’t come out very aggressive, but as the game went on we picked it up and got a little more comfortable,” said freshman forward and co-captain Hearney, one of the three returning members. “Pressuring the ball in the midfield is a weak point for us.”

Port Jefferson’s Morgan Bullis battles for possession. Photo by Desirée Keegan

As Babylon’s strong feet continued to send chances over Port Jefferson’s goal, the Royals continued to rack up opportunities for possession, but missed on first and second-chance looks.

By halftime, the Panthers led 4-0. After two more Babylon goals to open the second half, Hearney had her second chance at a goal, but her shot went just wide to keep the Royals scoreless.

“They stepped it up in the first half for sure, and in the second half they started getting a little tired,” she said. “I also have quite a few injured girls, so I’m hoping we can get through this season without having too many more injuries. But I think they did alright considering Babylon is our toughest competition.”

Some areas for the team to focus on in the weeks ahead — besides communication and trust — are conditioning, passing and just getting used to the nuances of playing at the varsity level, according to the head coach.

“A lot of the time we’re not looking as to who we’re passing to and they’re either incomplete or we’re passing to the other team,” Aponte said. “We’re getting used to the space, most of these girls were on the junior varsity team last year so they’re not used to playing on a bigger field, but they’re a young group, so we have time. The bar is set pretty high, but we have plenty of time to mold them, to work with them and get them to be that top-notch playing team that I think they can be.”

Port Jefferson’s Lena McFarland dribbles downfield. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The team is strongest on defense. Sophomore and co-captain Gina Lucero, a returner, and Reece Koban have been solid on the back line, deflecting the ball and pressuring to regain possession for Port Jeff.

“They are machines the two of them,” Aponte said. “They don’t back down to anything and I’m glad we have them back there because so far the defense is the section that needs to step up right now, just because of the competition we played.”

She said the pair has been consistent and key to keeping opponents out of the box.

“I feel bad because they’re doing so well I’m not subbing them out, and they’re probably exhausted and need a break, but I’m just a little nervous to pull them out right now,” the coach said, laughing. “They stepped up last week in our first game, and they did it again today.”

Hearney finally found the back of the net with 4:04 left to play. She said she is looking forward to seeing the team grows from here.

“Now that we have one goal, hopefully we can progress and win a game,” she said. “Since there’s only three returning players it’s kind of hard, because we learned a lot from the former seniors, and we’re just trying to share that knowledge. Hopefully this is a rebuilding year and we can work back up to what we once had.”

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Although it may sound cliché, the Port Jefferson girls’ soccer team is more than a team — the Royals really are a family.

The current group of seniors has seen very little change over the last three years. They’ve formed a cohesive unit, bought into coaches Allyson Wolff and Michele Aponte’s system and specialize in doing the little things necessary to win. Having lost just two seniors to graduation in the last two years, they’ve created a unique atmosphere that’s helped them see state playoff action each of the last two seasons. Now the defending state champions are hungry for their second consecutive title.

On Oct. 28, the Royals took the next step toward achieving that goal. After going three straight seasons without a League VII loss, and losing just once the season before that, Port Jefferson claimed another county crown with an 8-0 blanking of Southold.

“In my opinion that was the best game we’ve ever played,” said senior co-captain Jillian Colucci, who netted a hat trick and two assists on five shots. “Our possession was on point and our connections were there.”

“When we played them earlier in the season they were really tight on defense, so we practiced pulling back our defense and spreading them out to have more room with the forwards.”

—Grace Swords

The Royals were relentless — producing 39 shots and eight corner kicks. Clearly Port Jefferson learned from their 1-1 tie to Southold back on Sept. 23.

“When we played them earlier in the season they were really tight on defense, so we practiced pulling back our defense and spreading them out to have more room with the forwards,” said senior Grace Swords, who scored once and assisted twice in the win.

Colucci was first to light up the scoreboard after her teammates made several attempts to knock one in past Southold’s junior goalkeeper Hayley Brigham. She scored on a through ball from senior defensive midfielder Mikayla Yanucci.

“She always finds the ball no matter where I kick it,” Yanucci said of her teammate. “I knew if I passed it in between players she’d go from wherever she was to get to it. She found the ball, and she finished it. That was a great way to start off the game.”

Once Port Jefferson gets the ball rolling it’s difficult to slow down their momentum.

Two minutes after scoring, Colucci added another goal off an assist from senior forward Brittany Fazin.

“We needed to possess the ball,” Fazin said. “We knew not to force it. They’re bigger than us and they’re better in the air, so we tried to keep it down on the ground, keep it low and move the ball around until we scored.”

Fazin moved to Port Jefferson last year, but she fit right in quickly with the other forwards. She was second on the Royals in goals in both of her seasons with the team.

“Playing together for the last few years helped us grow a connection with each other,” Fazin said. “We know where each other is going to go and where to pass to each other; who plays best where. Coming to Port Jefferson I never expected any of this. Being this successful with a team is something I never thought I’d experience in my life.”

“Playing together for the last few years helped us grow a connection with each other. We know where each other is going to go and where to pass to each other; who plays best where.”

—Brittany Fazin

Senior Alexa Wakefield and eighth-grader Hailey Hearney also added goals, before Colucci finished the game with her hat trick goal. While she receives the spotlight for scoring, Colucci said the team atmosphere and her surrounding Royals play major roles in her success.

“I’m playing with 10 other people I grew up playing with,” she said. “We have our own quirky things — our cheers and song for each season. It’s crazy that it’s our last ride, but we’re making memories to last a lifetime.”

Because of their bond and level of play to this point, Yannucci said if the team continues to play like it did in the county title game, they’re going to be back upstate this month. The defense put together another solid showing from the back line, led by senior co-captain Corinne Scannell. Junior goalkeeper Brianna Scarda barely saw any action, and neither did sophomore goalkeeper Sarah Hull in the game against Southold. Each had to make just one save. Despite the score, Brigham made 27 saves for Southold.

Port Jefferson will play in the Long Island championship game Nov. 5. The Royals do not know who their Nassau opponent will be, and the time and place has yet to be announced.

“We’re going to go out hard and never give up, because that’s how Port Jeff plays — we never give up,” Yanucci said, looking ahead to the next round. “These girls are literally my family and I’m going to be so upset when this is all over. I’m just so happy to share this experience with all of my best friends.”

Swords echoed her teammate’s sentiments.

“The pressure is on, but we are a good team,” she said. “This is our final year playing together and if we just keep our heads in the game and put everything we have into it, we’ll go far. This is all so surreal. We’ve become a family over the last three years and to finish it off with a state title is all we want.”

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Port Jefferson junior forward and co-captain Jillian Colucci shoots and scores through a crowd of Babylon defenders. Photo by Desirée Keegan

By Desirée Keegan

After dropping the first two non-league games of the season, the Port Jefferson girls’ soccer team is back on track after topping Babylon Monday, 4-1, to continue a three-game League VII winning streak.

“Coming from being Class B and beating them in the Suffolk County Championship last year and now dropping down to Class C, it is definitely a big win for us today,” head coach Allyson Wolff said. “In the beginning of the season we played some tough opponents in Ward Melville and Center Moriches and we felt like the girls weren’t talking or communicating, so we worked on that and our passing in practice, keeping it simple and playing to feet — not just trying to kick the ball — so I feel we definitely stepped it up for this game.”

Port Jefferson sophomore midfielder Hailey Reale feels pressure from a Babylon defender as she maintains possession of the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Port Jefferson sophomore midfielder Hailey Reale feels pressure from a Babylon defender as she maintains possession of the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Port Jefferson sophomore goalkeeper Brianna Scarda made several big saves to keep the score 0-0, and the Royals had some chances at a goal early on, but Babylon’s defense came up with the stops.

Although opening the second half still in a stalemate, the Royals were quick to make up for lost time after speaking with Wolff at halftime.

“At halftime I told them that they weren’t playing our game,” Wolff said. “Babylon was beating us to the ball and stepping in front of us, and I told them that if we were going to let them do this, then we’re not going to win. I told them that they have to want it and it has to come from their heart, and told them that the other team looked like it wanted it more than they did, and I think that got them angry and sparked something.”

Port Jefferson junior midfielder and forward Clare O'Connor sends the ball into play during the Royals' 4-1 win over Babylon on Sept. 21. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Port Jefferson junior midfielder and forward Clare O’Connor sends the ball into play during the Royals’ 4-1 win over Babylon on Sept. 21. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Less than four minutes in, junior forward Jillian Colucci beat out the Babylon goalkeeper, who came out of the box to try and make a save, and shot the ball into the right side of an empty net off an assist from junior midfielder and forward Clare O’Connor, for the 1-0 lead.

“I knew I was going to get the pass, so I started running and felt the defense on my back, but I was able to touch it past the goalie and did whatever I could do to continue to touch it into the net,” she said.

At the 29:48 mark, after O’Connor sent the ball into play, Colucci attempted a goal through a swarm of defenders, and junior midfielder and forward Brittany Fazin put out her foot to stop the rebound and sent the ball into the right corner for a 2-0 advantage.

Off another assist from O’Connor, who crossed the ball into the box after a foul call, Colucci scored her second goal with a straight shot up the middle through traffic and past the keeper. She followed it up with her hat trick goal when, again, the Babylon goalkeeper came out of the box, leaving the net empty.

“The game was intense, and it always is against Babylon,” Colucci said. “Since we’re only playing them once this season we knew we had to step up and play them as hard as we could and keep our record strong against them.”

Port Jefferson junior midfielder and forward Brittany Fazin kicks the ball behind her to keep the pressure in Babylon's zone. Colucci would grab the pass and score on the play, and the Royals went on to beat the Panthers, 4-1, on Sept. 21. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Port Jefferson junior midfielder and forward Brittany Fazin kicks the ball behind her to keep the pressure in Babylon’s zone. Colucci would grab the pass and score on the play, and the Royals went on to beat the Panthers, 4-1, on Sept. 21. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Scarda made a save, her last of 18 on the afternoon, exactly three minutes after the Royals’ final goal to preserve the clean sheet for the time being, but after a goalie change, senior Noelle Zimmermann gave up a goal with 5:07 left to play, to bring the final score to 4-1.

“We really, really earned it,” Scarda said of the win. “All the nerves that we had — being scared about the game, we took and converted into our skill and our playing. We got our heads in the zone every chance we got and we trained very, very hard leading up to this game.”

What helped the Royals was that the team was playing to feet instead of chasing the ball in the air like they did in the first half.

“We don’t have good control of it [in the air], and when they play things to feet it’s pretty, it’s beautiful and it makes things happen,” assistant coach Michele Aponte said. “They’re a stronger group of girls together, especially getting to the level they got to last year. They want it.”

Port Jefferson travels to McGann-Mercy Friday, for a 4:30 p.m. game. The Royals have topped the Monarchs all six times they faced their opponent in the last three seasons.

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