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Stephanie Rapp

By Bill Landon

Smithtown West had a score to settle, as the girls volleyball team opened the season on the road at Newfield, the team that knocked them out of the postseason last year. For the Bulls, redemption was sweet as the girls swept the Wolverines in three straight sets Sept. 5, 25-10, 25-22, 25-23.

“We know they’re a tough team, they’re scrappy defensively and they’re not going to give up,” said Smithtown West head coach Deron Brown. “We came out really strong in the first set — we put a big number on the board to start.”

“I was happy with how we picked ourselves up in the second game. We got aggressive and had good communication out on the court.”

— Christy Innes

Anchoring the outside hitting game for Smithtown West were senior Peri Allen from the right side and freshman Sally Tietjen from the left.

“Last year — they crushed us in three,” said Allen, who notched 16 digs and eight kills. “So to win today in three proved that we [are capable] of beating them, so it was a big win for us.”

For Tietjen, the scoring was almost reversed, recording 15 kills and eight digs for the formidable scoring duo up front.

The Bulls barreled through the Newfield  in the first set, and despite being ahead 13-6 in the second set, Newfield slowly chipped away at the deficit. As the momentum shifted the Wolverines’ way, with the help of some Smithtown West miscues, Newfield rallied to close the gap to 22-19, forcing Smithtown West to call timeout. Out of the break, the Wolverines scored two unanswered points to trail by one before the Bulls closed the door, 25-22.

Newfield head coach Christy Innes said she anticipated a tough match and said her team had to shake off the first set and focus on playing mistake free the rest of the way.

“[Smithtown West] did very well today — they played a very aggressive game, but we expected that,” the coach said. “I was happy with how we picked ourselves up in the second game. We got aggressive and had good communication out on the court.”

“In that third set I just wanted to make sure we kept pushing through. We fell behind a little bit and this happened to us last year, so we had to really fight through that game, and we pushed hard.

Sally Tietjen

The Wolverines once again got off to a slow start to open the third set, falling behind 5-0 before they could answer. Madison Wenzel set to her outside hitters — senior Naomi Ruffalo-Roman and junior Olivia Bond — as the three battled at the net to claw their way back, tying the set 14-14. It was a see-saw battle the rest of the way with Newfield taking its first lead of the day, edging ahead 15-14, but the Bulls rallied back too, to make it a new game at 18-18.

“In that third set I just wanted to make sure we kept pushing through,” Tietjen said. “We fell behind a little bit and this happened to us last year, so we had to really fight through that game, and we pushed hard. We were so determined to beat them after last year, so we didn’t let up.”

The Wolverines scored, but the Bulls answered. An out-of-bounds serve gave the lead back to Newfield for 20-19 advantage, and both teams traded points before Smithtown West scored the final two to win.

Newfield is back on the court Sept. 7 when the team travels to Riverhead for a 4 p.m. match.

“They pulled together,” Innes said. “They got aggressive, had good communication and they played well in the last two games. We’ll be back at practice tomorrow and work on the individual skills stuff for each girl and we’ll focus on cleaning up the technique.”

Smithtown West will host crosstown foe Smithtown East Sept. 7 at 5:45 p.m.

“Our lineup is not really set yet — we’re still trying different kids in different spots — but everybody responded well,” Brown said. “They went out on the court with energy and they stayed positive, even when the match got tight.”

Northport came close, but couldn’t make redemption happen, as the girls’ soccer team fell, again, 3-2, to Massapequa in the Class AA Long Island championship matchup Nov. 4.

The Tigers (18-2-1) scored first with an early goal by junior forward Victoria Colatosti with 28:48 remaining in the first half. She followed it up by getting a free kick on a foul 10 yards from the box, and senior defender and co-captain Stephanie Rapp came up to take the kick. Instead of shooting, Rapp passed outside, and Massapequa (16-1-2) cleared the ball to keep the 1-0 score.

The two teams continued to battle at midfield, swapping possession and chances at a goal, and an unlucky deflection by Northport on a corner kick tied the game, 1-1.

Senior goalkeeper Emma Havrilla scooped up the ball twice in a row to keep Massapequa from getting a shot off, and made a save on a Chiefs free kick with 4:44 remaining until the halftime break to keep the Tigers tied.

But with 2:34 remaining, Havrilla leapt straight up to make a save on another Massapequa free kick after a hand ball call, but her tip wasn’t enough to stop a goal, as the Chiefs put the ball in the net on the rebound for a 2-1 halftime lead.

Less than five minutes into the second half, Massapequa’s Hope Breslin found Sierra Brophy on a through ball, and Brophy’s goal put the Chiefs up 3-1.

A long scoring drought ensued as the two teams fought for possession, and with 11:56 left to play, junior forward Juliana Conforti made it a one-goal game when she buried a loose ball.

In front of an estimated 2,000 fans at St. Joseph’s College’s Long Island campus, Northport couldn’t score the equalizer, as Massapequa topped Northport by the same score it did four years ago, and won its fourth straight Long Island championship and sixth in the last eight years.

By Desirée Keegan

Northport goalkeeper Emma Havrilla has a way of firing up her team, and with one swift motion, she lit the match.

Less than a minute into the second half, Northport’s Havrilla moved just slightly to her left to block Amanda Sheradin’s penalty kick, which could have been the difference-maker for Smithtown West, and then dove on the rebound to keep the scoreboard blank.

No. 2 Smithtown West had been dominating the ball up to the penalty kick save but that stop, which was one of Havrilla’s 13, sparked a turnaround.

“We’ve been working so hard since August, and it’s finally our time to shine.”

—Stephanie Rapp

“I looked into her eyes and I could see the fear; I knew where she was going,” Havrilla said. “It gave our team more confidence. Then, after the first goal we scored, we kept the momentum going.”

No. 1 Northport shut out Smithtown West 3-0 to claim the Suffolk County Class AA title for the first time in three years. The Tigers were eliminated in the semifinals each of the last two seasons.

Past disappointment served as motivation this season, according to at least one Tiger.

“Our team has been working so hard since that loss to Massapequa [in the 2013 Long Island championship game], and we’re finally back here,” defender Stephanie Rapp said. “We’ve been working so hard since August, and it’s finally our time to shine.”

Rapp was one of two girls tasked with shutting down Smithtown West’s leading offensive threat, Sarah Harrington. Rapp and Harrington were teammates on a travel team in the past, so Rapp had an advantage over most defenders in the league.

“She’s amazing in the air and with her footwork, so we had to put pressure on her to keep her out,” Rapp said.

The Bulls had a few more chances at a goal, but Havrilla refused to yield.

At 23:23, Victoria Colatosti chipped in what ended up being the game winner.

“After Emma’s stop with the PK, it just woke them up and they killed it out there.”

—Aija Gipp

“It was back and forth,” Colatosti said of the action in front of the net. “Paige Leonard got a touch off in the 18 box, I saw an open shot and took it, and thank God it went in.”

Northport made it 2-0 on Emily McNelis’ goal with less than 10 minutes left in the contest, and 3-0 on Emily Zeblisky’s goal with four minutes remaining.

“To see our attack finally come together like they have all season was huge,” Northport head coach Aija Gipp said, adding that her team built on its aggressiveness to put the pressure on. “It gives us that confidence going into the next round. After Emma’s stop with the PK, it just woke them up and they killed it out there.”

Northport will get its rematch against Massapequa Nov. 4 at 6:30 p.m. at St. Joseph’s College. Colatosti is confident, and added that although it’s not going to be easy, it’s going to exciting to be a part of.

“It feels so good to finally be where we should be,” she said. “Losing last year in the semifinals — that shouldn’t have happened, so it feels good to be where we deserved to be and where we’ve been working hard to be.”

Emily McNelis breaks down following the shootout win. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Northport was eliminated during the semifinals in penalty kicks last year, so when the No. 1 girls’ soccer team found itself in a similar situation Tuesday, the Tigers fought for redemption.

The victory was sweet, with Northport’s Cybele Laisney, Stephanie Rapp and Caeley Gruhn sending their shots home, and Emma Havrilla making two saves to seal the 3-1 shootout win over Walt Whitman Oct. 24.

Northport teammates surround goalkeeper Emma Havrilla following the win. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Northport teammates surround goalkeeper Emma Havrilla following the win. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“I haven’t felt this way in a long time,” the junior goalkeeper said following the win. “Once I got one stop I knew I was going to get another. I felt confident.”

Although Northport, 16-1 overall and 14-0 in League II, was going up against a No. 16 seed in Walt Whitman, it wasn’t as easy for the Tigers as it would sound. Northport faced off against its playoff opponent three times this season, most recently, coming away with a 3-1 win Oct. 18.

“It’s always harder to play a team the second time around, let alone the third time, so we knew what we were in for,” said Rapp, a senior defender. “They have drastically increased their gameplay, which was a challenge, but we worked around it and pulled through.”

Laisney said the increased toughness was expected.

“Once you play a team three times they know who you are, they know how you play and they work on how to break you down,” the senior center midfielder said. “So it gets tough.”

Cybele Laisney moves the ball across midfield. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Cybele Laisney moves the ball across midfield. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The two teams battled through two 40-minute halves, two 10-minute overtime session and two five-minute sudden death periods before heading into the shootout. Northport had multiple attempts at goal, the largest coming when junior forward Victoria Colatosti made the goalkeeper come out of the box, and raced between three defenders to the open net, but her last touch went wide amid the swarm of players.

“It’s scary in the first round to have to get to penalty kicks, but there’s a reason this happened,” Northport head coach Aija Gipp said. “And our goalkeeper was just amazing. This gives us confidence and gives her confidence moving forward.”

Walt Whitman scored first in the shootout, but Laisney countered.

“We just went through such emotional turmoil,” the co-captain said, adding that scoring the first goal for her team took a huge weight off her shoulders. “It’s nerve-racking, but you get in the zone and you realize it’s this or it’s nothing, so you chose your side and hit it hard. We just could not see ourselves end here.”

She said it wouldn’t have been made possible without her goalkeeper, who blocked Walt Whitman’s next shot.

“Emma is incredible and we could not have done any of this without her,” Laisney said. “She is such a solid, solid rock in our goal and I’m so happy she’s on our team.”

Emma Havrilla makes her first save in the shootout. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Emma Havrilla makes her first save in the shootout. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Rapp, a co-captain, scored the next penalty kick for the Tigers.

“I took one last year and made it in, so I used that as confidence,” she said. “We have a lot of heart and dedication. We weren’t going to let this be our last game.”

Havrilla made another diving block on Walt Whitman’s next shot, and after junior defender Caeley Gruhn scored another, Walt Whitman’s final attempt hit the crossbar to give Northport the win.

“This team is all about heart,” Gipp said. “The girls have a lot of passion and they never give up. I’m proud of them.”

It came down to the Tigers’ mentality, and Laisney agreed with her coach that her team had too much heart to get upset in the first round.

“We love playing soccer so much,” she said, fighting back tears of joy. “We have so much heart and that’s what keeps us going forward. That’s what allows us to have the composure we have to pull through with the PKs. It’s what allows us not to choke and break down.”

Leah Dentale sends the ball back into Half Hollow Hills East's zone.

Last season, the Northport girls’ soccer team didn’t lose their first game until a 1-0 elimination loss in the Suffolk County Class AA semifinals. This season, the girls are on the same track, but this time they’re looking to take it all the way.

Victoria Colatosti controls the ball as she sends it to her feet. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Victoria Colatosti controls the ball as she sends it to her feet. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The visiting Tigers shut out previously undefeated Half Hollow Hills East, 2-0, Sept. 12, to secure their fourth straight win and third straight shutout. Last season, the girls had a shutout in every game leading up to their heartbreaking semifinal loss in a penalty shootout.

Still, the head coach saw plenty of room for improvement.

“There were moments of good stuff, but there were a lot of things that I think we need to work on,” Northport head coach Aija Gipp said after the game. “Today wasn’t our best showing. The result was good, but there was a disconnect between players this game.”

At the 9:49 mark of the first half, junior forward Victoria Colatosti scored on a penalty kick she was awarded after she was fouled on a breakaway. Three minutes later, senior forward Leah Dentale scored off a shot she hadn’t planned on taking.

“I got passed the ball, I turned around and was dribbling the ball to goal,” she said. “I was looking for a through ball to Victoria but it wasn’t there, so I took a shot and it went in.”

Heading into halftime leading 2-0, the coach knew they needed to pick up the intensity and switch the field more — or create more motion from side to side with both the ball and the players.

Emily McNelis intercepts a Half Hollow Hills East pass. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Emily McNelis intercepts a Half Hollow Hills East pass. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Switching the ball, junior midfielder Emily McNelis said, would not have happened if it wasn’t for senior center defender and co-captain Stephanie Rapp.

“I think we settled down — our defense helped us out and we started playing around Half Hollow Hills East,” McNelis said. “Leah’s goal, that was really pretty. The midfield started playing together and Steph Rapp started switching the ball, which was good. I think we just need to switch the ball more and take more outside shots.”

Although they didn’t score in the second half, the Tigers connected more, using their footwork to not only change directions and move the ball around, but also by successfully passing the ball to the open girl while moving up the field.

Dentale got an early opportunity less than a minute into the half, but her shot went wide. Colatosti also had another look when she dribbled through the defense and rocketed a shot to the center of the goal, but the chance was saved by the Half Hollow Hills East goalkeeper Morgan Novikoff.

Stephanie Rapp heads the ball out of Northport's zone. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Stephanie Rapp heads the ball out of Northport’s zone. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“Once we scored our penalty kick we knew it was ours and did what we normally do,” Rapp said. “We connected the passes well and we adjusted to the field together, because it was a little narrow. Although it took some time, we did it.”

Rapp thinks the current team may be even stronger than last season’s, and she’s not alone. While Gipp still thinks her team needs to work on its togetherness, she said she believes the girls have the potential to go far, and she knows the returners are hungry for redemption after West Islip knocked the Tigers out in the semifinals two years in a row.

“Our defense definitely held it together — they got the shutout again, so that definitely kept us in the game,” she said of her athletes. “They just need to make sure that the defense is connecting with the midfield and the midfield connects with the forwards and we’re moving as a team as the ball transitions. The group coming back is really strong, the girls play great, they’re motivated this year and they have a championship in their sights. We want to get to the county finals.”

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