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Emily McNelis

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Victoria Colatosti dribbles the ball downfield. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

Seniors Victoria Colatosti and Emily McNelis have led Northport soccer to the finish line.

With a 5-0 win over Walt Whitman Oct. 18, the Tigers tallied their eighth shutout of the season, while finishing undefeated at 14-0 overall and 12-0 in Legaue II.

Emily McNelis moves the ball through midfield. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“I cried,” McNelis said. “It’s our last real game. You never know — you could lose in the playoffs, even though we aren’t going to lose. It’s going to be really weird next year not being on this team and playing on this field. Every minute counts.”

The Tigers made every minute count Wednesday with a balanced attack. Sporting two of Suffolk County’s Top 10 scorers in Colatosti and McNelis (28 points each) doesn’t hurt, and senior Juliana Conforti and junior Olivia Carner combining for five points doesn’t hurt either.

Conforti scored Northport’s third goal in the 69th minute, and did it again two minutes later, with Carner assisting on both.

“On the first goal, Olivia saw me in the back, so she gave it back to me and it kind of went off the goalkeeper, kind of went off me,” Conforti said. “It was really the both of us, so we got that goal together.”

Carner said her team was ready to take the win, but she’s not ready to bid farewell to the seniors just yet.

“It’s really easy to see my teammates, like Conforti,” she said. “We practice all the time so the second I see her, it’s so easy to know that she can finish when I pass it to her. It’s really sad to think about our best friends not being here with us next year.”

Julilana Conforti sends the ball downfield. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Colatosti scored two goals, her second was unassisted in the 72nd minute. She scored the second goal of the game in the 37th off an assist from Conforti, who controlled the ball on the right side and saw Colatosti open in the center, and took advantage of the opportunity.

“If the team continues to play the way they’ve been playing all season, they have a real shot at winning the Long Island Championship,” Northport head coach Aija Gipp said. “It’s a long road to get to that final game, but they definitely have what it takes to get there.”

It was a quiet 0-0 affair through 24 minutes of action though, until McNelis put one past Walt Whitman’s goalkeeper with an assist from junior Isabel Yeomans. McNelis said her team was not accustomed to being locked in a stalemate for that long.

“We usually score in the first 10 minutes,” McNelis said. ‘We got a little frantic in the beginning, but we settled down and we caught the defense off guard. Isabel made a good kick and I attacked.”

The team reflected on last year’s win on penalty kicks over Walt Whitman prior to the senior day game. McNelis said her Tigers knew they needed to come out strong to ensure that wasn’t going to happen again.

“That was insane,” McNelis said of last year’s win. “We were not letting them tie us again on this field. We came out strong. It’s our turf.”

Determined and gutsy in goal, Northport’s Emma Havrilla has her sights set on another successful season.

After prohibiting opponents from scoring in 13 matchups last year, the senior goalkeeper secured another shutout — a 1-0 victory in the Tigers girls soccer team’s first game of the season against Ward Melville Sept. 2.

“It felt really good,” Havrilla said of the away win. “Since we were reigning county champs last year this shows we’re ready to come out hard for it again this year.”

Even when the Patriots carried out multiple corner-kick attempts and pressured inside the box to try to avenge an overtime loss in last season’s Suffolk semifinals, Northport head coach Aija Gipp never questioned Havrilla’s abilities or her judgment calls.

“Having Emma back there — we trust her with every decision she makes,” she said.

And there were some close calls to be made. The senior leaped out and grabbed possession after each corner kick the Patriots took, and when Ward Melville sophomore midfielder Kiley Hamou had a breakaway opportunity with 30 minutes left in the game, Havrilla came out and tapped the ball to her right, and dodged to the left to secure possession of the ball on the rebound shot.

“I saw her take a bad touch, that’s when I come off my line,” Havrilla said. “Considering we tied them 0-0 and won in penalty kicks last year, it’s great to win against them this year.”

She too doesn’t have any doubt, as it pertains to her defensive line, despite the crop of younger competitors this year.

“We’ve put in a lot of work and I trust the girls in front of me,” she said. “We’re still just as strong.”

Senior midfielder Emily McNelis sealed the deal for Northport with 8:20 left in the first half, with the help of a penalty. Ward Melville was called for a handball, and Isabel Yeomans stepped up to send the ball into play. McNelis got a touch on the ball and sent it past Ward Melville senior goalkeeper Samantha Tarpey for the 1-0 lead.

“She was where she needed to be,” Gipp said. “Having Emily there, the goal, it was picture perfect.”

McNelis agreed with Havrilla that with Ward Melville being one of the toughest teams the Tigers will face, the win shows Northport is ready to rumble.

“Everyone played with so much heart and such a desire to win — we had great intensity and we kept it going,” McNelis said. “Ward Melville came out for blood today, and this shows that even though we lost a lot of key players last year, we’ve come out even better, and we’re still the top team to beat.”

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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.”