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Leah Dentale

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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.”