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Mount Sinai girls’ soccer

Mount Sinai’s girls’ soccer team celebrates its Suffolk County title win. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Success isn’t given, it’s earned, and our North Shore teams this fall have earned it.

Our student-athletes aren’t just building character through lessons of teamwork, or gaining strength and endurance, or learning about winning and losing — they’re leaving legacies.

Port Jefferson’s varsity girls’ soccer team celebrates a second consecutive state championship. Photo from Port Jefferson school district
Port Jefferson’s varsity girls’ soccer team celebrates a second consecutive state championship. Photo from Port Jefferson school district

Some teams may have seen their losses as failures, but we can’t forget the history that was made this season. Centereach’s football team made the postseason for the first time since 2002; Ward Melville’s field hockey faced off in the state finals for the second straight season; and Mount Sinai’s girls’ soccer team made it to the Long Island championship after claiming the program’s first county crown.

Newfield’s soccer team also made big moves this season. The boys played in the county finals for the first time, and the girls, who were part of a developmental league in 2012 — designed for weaker teams to play competitive games without the possibility of postseason play — won 11 games this season and made it to the Suffolk quarterfinals. Smithtown East’s girls’ volleyball team had a near-perfect season. They lost just one game heading into the Suffolk finals. Northport made it back to the girls’ soccer county finals after two seasons, getting over the semifinal hump. And Ward Melville’s football team will be playing in the county finals for the first time in three decades this weekend, after upsetting No. 1-seed and previously undefeated Lindenhurst last week.

And then there was total dominance by teams like the Port Jefferson’s girls’ soccer team, which brought home back-to-back state titles after its third-straight almost perfect season. Kings Park’s girls’ volleyball team cruised to its sixth straight county and Long Island titles, and plays in the state finals this weekend, and Smithtown West’s boys’ volleyball team, which brought home the school’s first county and Long Island titles this year, will also play in the state tournament this weekend.

We have fully enjoyed covering our sports teams this season and are proud of their success. Of course it’s fun to watch and write about victory, but it’s also gratifying to see the student-athletes in our coverage areas working hard to make their communities proud.

We also would like to commend all of the hardworking coaches — who are volunteers, in some cases — for their dedication to bettering our youth. With so many opportunities available for kids to stray down the wrong path, it is a breath of fresh air to see our athletes thrive.

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Mount Sinai’s Caiya Schuster makes a save against Shoreham-Wading River’s Nicky Constant. Photo by Desirée Keegan

By Desirée Keegan

All Lydia Kessel was thinking in the final seconds of overtime is that she couldn’t let Mount Sinai score.

The Shoreham-Wading River junior goalkeeper wanted action, but received almost more than she could handle. A cluster of frenzied girls squeezed between the six and 18-yard line, and that made it difficult to get a hand on the ball.

Mount Sinai's Victoria Johnson and Shoreham-Wading River's Haley Rose battle for the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Mount Sinai’s Victoria Johnson and Shoreham-Wading River’s Haley Rose battle for the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“It was like a game of Pong,” she said of the final frantic moments of the Sept. 27 match. “It was just touches — the ball was going back and forth and the only thing going through my head is that I had to get the ball. If I could get the ball, I could get it out and we can get through the last 10 seconds. I did not want to lose in the last 10 seconds.”

Kessel eventually muscled her way to the ball, although she missed it on the first grab and left a Mount Sinai player with an open net. She threw herself on top of the loose ball, scooped it up and tossed it away to escape with the 0-0 draw for her Wildcats and the Mustangs after two 10-minute overtime sessions.

“They’re a much more physical team,” Shoreham-Wading River head coach Adrian Gilmore said of Mount Sinai. “But we played a hard game. [Mount Sinai] plays a lot in the air, which is different from the way we play, since we play more to feet. I feel like any time we play them, anything could happen, because they’re so physical.”

Mount Sinai controlled the game for the first few minutes and showed that toughness, but Shoreham-Wading River pushed right back, and came up with back-to-back chances at a goal, the first of which went off the right post.

After the two teams tied 2-2 Sept. 8, Mount Sinai head coach Courtney Leonard expected much of the same the second time around.

“I thought something like this would occur,” she said. “Shoreham — their personnel, our personnel are very evenly matched. They had chances and we had them. They had an unfortunate post in the beginning of the game that could’ve gone in and we had some opportunities in the middle of the net with nobody there that we should’ve gotten. But I thought we did a great job.”

Lydia Kessel sends the ball into play after making a stop. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Lydia Kessel sends the ball into play after making a stop. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Shoreham-Wading River senior outside midfielder Alex Kuhnle had several opportunities to help her team put one away in the second half. First, she attempted a fake from 25 yards out, but Mount Sinai’s junior goalkeeper Caiya Schuster saved her shot. Later, sophomore striker Nicky Constant, took a pass from senior midfielder Sarah Stietzle, but the touch was too soft. Kuhnle also tried to set up Constant twice, but Schuster saved the first, and although the second attempt went in, an offside call waved off the goal. Another shot went in within a five-minute span, but offside was called again. Schuster made 10 big saves on the evening to keep her team in the game.

“Mount Sinai is always a tough team to go up against,” Kuhnle said. “They always come out strong, and I think that we reacted well. We were just unlucky with our shots. We had a lot of opportunities, so that’s a good thing, but moving on, we need to work on finishing.”

Despite junior sweeper Samantha Higgins being forced to leave the game with a foot injury, Shoreham-Wading River’s defense held its own. Kessel made a save with 5:54 left in regulation, one of her five for the game.

“It was a tough battle, but we all helped,” Mount Sinai sophomore midfielder and forward Brooke Cergol said. “We focused on covering their top players, attacking and looking outside; we just really wanted to score and win this game.”

Mount Sinai’s Brooke Cergol and Shoreham-Wading River’s Alex Kuhnle race for the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Mount Sinai’s Brooke Cergol and Shoreham-Wading River’s Alex Kuhnle race for the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Gilmore said having Kessel, a three-year varsity starter, in goal helped her feel more comfortable about the matchup.

“I think having her in the back is such a dangerous weapon,” she said. “My assistant coach [Brian Ferguson] thinks it was one of the best games he’s seen her play. I expect her to do what she does, and it’s a nice feeling.”

With the draw, both teams move to 4-1-2 in League VI. It is the last time the two rivals — that are just miles from each other down Route 25A — are scheduled to battle this season, but it certainly may not be the last time they face off.

Kuhnle said if they see each other again in the postseason, her team will be ready.

“There’s a ton of talent on this team and we can go as far as we want to go if everyone comes together and plays hard,” she said. “This will help fuel a fire for playoffs and show us what we have to work on, so maybe we’ll focus a little more in practice to improve. I’m not disappointed with our performance though; we just got unlucky.”