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.
“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.”
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.”
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.”