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Gabby Lorefice

Ward Melville's Kerri Liucci is congratulated by her teammates after scoring the first goal of the game. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The Ward Melville girls’ soccer team faced some adversity late in the first half of their season-opening game, but the Patriots pushed through the wind, kept their heads up and got down to business.

Junior striker Kerri Liucci scored a hat trick to propel Ward Melville’s 4-1 win over Smithtown West in nonleague action Sept. 5.

“It’s the first time we’ve scored a hat trick in a while,” Ward Melville head coach John Diehl said. “We got a bit rattled, but I spoke to them at halftime about keeping their composure, getting their minds in the right place and winning the 50/50 balls in the middle and establishing our game we had in the first 20 minutes, and I think we did that.”

Smithtown West's Gabby Lorefice sends the ball into play. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Smithtown West’s Gabby Lorefice sends the ball into play. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Less than three minutes into the game, Liucci scored her first goal after some back and forth in front of the net off a corner kick allowed her to knock the ball into an open right side of the net.

“I was trying to find the ball; trying to get a hit off of it,” she said. “Smithtown West went to go clear it, but I got my body in front of it.”

She tallied her second goal minutes later, when Smithtown West’s goalkeeper Gabby Lorefice came out of the box to stop the ball.

“I kept my composure, and let myself play how I usually do,” she said.

With three minutes left in the first half, Smithtown West senior forward Alicia Daoust scored off a corner kick, and the Bulls’ bench erupted in excitement, which gave them a boost heading into halftime.

Both teams came out ready to fight in the second half, and Lorefice made some of her crucial nine saves on the evening in the final 40 minutes to keep her team in the game.

“We came out a bit flat and it cost us in the beginning — they made us pay for it,” Smithtown West head coach Rob Schretzmayer said. “They pressed us. They’re a good team, and just very aggressive. We were on our heels, and we were chasing a little at the end. Credit to [Ward Melville] — with the wind on their back—they caught us again.”

With 17:49 left to play, a high kick bounced over Lorefice’s head, and Liucci scored her third goal of the game. Junior back Victoria Vitale added insurance with just under 10 minutes left.

Ward Melville's Rose Lopez sends the ball downfield while Smithtown West opponents race to block the pass. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Ward Melville’s Rose Lopez sends the ball downfield while Smithtown West opponents race to block the pass. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The Patriots, are loaded with experienced upperclassmen on their roster, an advantage not lost on one of the team’s leaders.

“Our fitness is really high, we work really well together and have a really good relationship with each other that I think translates onto the field,” senior center back Megan Raftery said. “I’ve been playing with some of these girls since kindergarten, so we know each other’s strengths and we know how to build on each other’s strengths.”

That chemistry showed in connected passes and the girls getting open for one another, according to Liucci, who said the team is looking to make a big statement this season.

“We’ll keep working hard in practice and pushing one another,” she said.

Despite the 4-1 victory, Diehl still saw room for his team to improve.

“With the experience we have and the attitude of the girls, this is a special group,” he said. “This group wants to play and want to do the best. They’re getting over that mental hump and gaining confidence, and I think they’re looking good. Given the quality of the opponent — Smithtown West one of the top teams in the county — gives us a better understanding of what level we can play at, and gives them the confidence to believe in themselves. We can play really good soccer.”