For the first time this summer, perhaps, the Shoreham-Wading River girls soccer team’s defense, its bedrock, was shaken.
The Wildcats had looked in control of the Town of Brookhaven Summer League championship game Thursday evening pretty much the whole time, and then there was cause for concern. A late flukish Brentwood goal made things interesting.
Shoreham, which had built leads of 2-0 and 3-1, saw Brentwood pull to within 3-2 when a Shoreham player, Theresa Bender, shanked an attempted clearance and the ball found the low right corner of her goal. It’s one of those things that happen in soccer: an own goal.
It gave Brentwood a sliver of hope.
Fortunately for Shoreham, though, there were only 70 seconds left, and the Wildcats were able to close out the match, keeping their lead intact and winning what coach Adrian Gilmore believes is Shoreham’s first overall championship in the summer league. Two days earlier, the Wildcats had scored a 1-0 double-overtime victory over Miller Place in the small schools final.
After Thursday’s game against the large schools champions ended, the Wildcats were presented with the championship plaque and each of the players were given white T-shirts emblazoned with the words, “BROOKHAVEN SOCCER PLAYOFF CHAMPIONS 2014.”
It was a fine way to cap a summer that saw the Wildcats go undefeated with a 10-0-3 record.
The way they played brought reassurance to a team that had lost seven players from last year, including four starters, their goalkeeper, sweeper and stopper among them.
“I think they were a little nervous about what was coming back so I think that this summer really showed them that we have a really good team,” said Gilmore.
One of the vital pieces has been Emily Sopko, a senior who plays right midfielder for her club team and has played midfield for her school team the past three years. But this summer has brought a change for Sopko. To help shore up the defense, she played stopper for most of the season. She was moved back to sweeper for the last two games in the absence of Sam Higgins.
“It’s really nerve-wracking playing sweeper because you’re the last line of defense and if the ball gets past you it’s kind of like a weight on your shoulders,” said Sopko.
Like many players, Sopko is accustomed to being bounced from position to position, based on the needs of her team.
“I prefer right outside but I’ll play anywhere on the field,” she said. “I just like playing the game.”
Sopko has been a big reason why the Wildcats allowed only 4 goals in 13 games this summer, an impressive record. Her play in Shoreham’s four playoff games was recognized and rewarded with the presentation of the Ray Barth Tournament MVP award.
“I take it with a grain of salt, I guess,” Sopko said. “It’s nice to win this but it’s even more success winning as a team. I’d rather win as a team than win an MVP award.”
She got both.
Asked about Sopko’s play, Shoreham’s sophomore left midfielder, Alex Kuhnle, said, “I haven’t seen anyone really getting past her so I think she’s been playing really well there.”
Gilmore said Sopko is committed, determined, hard-working, and someone younger players can look up to.
“I respect someone who hustles 99 or 100 percent of the time, and that’s that kid,” said Gilmore, who stated that Sopko will be her stopper in the fall. “Whether she’s heading the ball out, clearing it out, she’s always doing the right things.”
Kuhnle is another player who has been doing the right things. Skillful and smart, Kuhnle was involved in the first two goals in a match that pitted Shoreham finesse against Brentwood physicality. She delivered the right-wing cross that Meg Kelly settled before scoring on in the 11th minute. Fifteen minutes later, Kuhnle slammed home a rebound of her attempted centering pass, making it 2-0.
Karen Rodriguez picked off a pass before dribbling forward and blasting a shot in for Brentwood’s first goal 1:45 into the second half.
But Courtney Clasen restored Shoreham’s two-goal lead off a pass from Kelly in the 45th minute.
“We just have a lot of talent on the team,” Sopko said. She added, “I think it’s — what’s the word? — a preview of what you’re going to see in the fall season.”