Girls Soccer Preview: A new era for Riverhead

Riverhead senior Sierra Smith works on a ball-handling drill during practice. (Credit: Robert O'Rourk)
Riverhead senior Sierra Smith works on a ball-handling drill during practice. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

Through all the struggles in recent years for the Riverhead girls soccer team, there was always one constant: the calming presence of Carolyn Carrera anchoring the defense in goal. The scores of most games hardly reflected the effort of Carrera to keep her team close. 

Carrera was a five-year varsity player and a captain for three years. Now with Carrera a freshman at Hofstra University, the Blue Waves are left to begin a new era.

“It’s going to be strange going out there the first game with her not in goal,” said Riverhead coach Hassan Olowu.

Olowu knows it won’t be easy for any one player to replace the leadership role Carrera held for years. But he’s confident this year’s group is ready to take a step forward.

“We can see it in practice, but we still don’t know who’s going to be who when the games start up,” he said.

One reason for hope is the emergence of a talented goalkeeper in sophomore Angel Lisa Smith.

“She’s a very good player,” Olowu said. “She’s inexperienced. This is her first year on the varsity. The first year is always a learning curve.”

Olowu said Smith benefited from training under Carrera last year and getting to see up close how a top player prepares for the game.

The Blue Waves were mostly a senior-laden team last year, so there will be plenty of new faces. One of the key returnees is junior Meagan Brunner.

“She’s an outstanding all-around player,” Olowu said.

Junior Kelly Garcia is another key returner. Sierra Smith, a midfielder, is one of two seniors on the team.

“This year we’re definitely going to be a more cohesive unit,” Olowu said.

Goals were at a premium for Riverhead last season. The team struggled to score any goal in league play and lost most games by four to five goals.

The competition won’t be any easier this year against teams like Smithtown West and Half Hollow Hills West.

Olowu said he plans to use a scrimmage Thursday as a measuring stick to see where many of the girls fit best on the field. Olowu has emphasized fitness during the first two weeks of practice. And it’s something the girls worked hard on during the summer to be ready for.

“A lot of the kids understood that in order to be ready, to maximize hitting the ground running, we need to put in as much time as possible in the offseason,” Olowu said.

The Blue Waves open the non-league season Saturday at Rocky Point in preparation for the league season Sept. 11, which kicks off at home against Newfield.

Shoreham-Wading River's Alex Kuhnle, left, and Port Jefferson's Jillian Colucci competing for possession of the ball during a summer league game. (Credit: Garret Meade)
Shoreham-Wading River’s Alex Kuhnle, left, and Port Jefferson’s Jillian Colucci competing for possession of the ball during a summer league game. (Credit: Garret Meade)

During a seven-game win streak at one point last season, the Shoreham-Wading River girls soccer team gave up a total of zero goals. The dominant defense propelled the Wildcats into the semifinals of the Class A playoffs, where they ultimately fell 1-0 to Sayville.

As a new season begins, there’s plenty of reason for optimism for the Wildcats, even after the graduation of four-year goalkeeper Kelly Wynkoop.

Coaches never like to put too much stock into the summer league. But it’d be hard to completely dismiss what the Wildcats just accomplished in the Town of Brookhaven Summer League. The Wildcats went 6-0-3 in the regular season, often without a full roster, giving up just two goals. They won their next four games in the playoffs to win the small school and overall summer league titles. In those games, the Wildcats outscored their opponents 9-2.

The reason for optimism starts with the return of a formidable trio of Courtney Clasen, Alex Kuhnle and Megan Kelly. Clasen, a senior, has the ability to dominate in the midfield and will be a key contributor on both ends of the field. As a freshman last year, Kuhnle was electric at striker. After a summer spent playing soccer at tournaments all across the country, Kuhnle is primed to be a big threat on the attack. Kelly, a junior, provides another scoring threat at striker. She missed two weeks of the summer league because of a concussion she suffered during a club game, but she dominated in her return to the Wildcats’ summer league team. She scored once in a 2-0 win over Center Moriches in a playoff quarterfinal game.

On defense the Wildcats return junior Emily Sopko. And while the Wildcats lost their goalkeeper, they return two strong options this season in Lydia Kessel and Lauren Marigliano.

The Wildcats open the non-league season at Harborfields Wednesday and kick off the league season two days later at Bayport-Blue Point.

McGann-Mercy junior Julianna Cintron-Leonardo (right) returns in goal for the Monarchs this season. (Credit: Robert O'Rourk)
McGann-Mercy junior Julianna Cintron-Leonardo (right) returns in goal for the Monarchs this season. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

After losing only five seniors to graduation, there will be plenty of familiar faces on the Bishop McGann-Mercy girls soccer team this season. There will also be a new coach in Mary Jackson, the longtime JV coach.

“It’s been a very exciting first few months,” Jackson said. “Working with the kids, the parents. I have a massive support system.”

Having been with the program, Jackson has seen many of the current varsity players at the lower level when they were the younger. The difference in their play now is dramatic, she said.

“It’s incredible to see their performance, their skill level, their technical level, their tactical level all increase so much so that they’re ready to play varsity,” she said.

The Monarchs  return a veteran in goal in Julianna Cintron-Leonardo. She’s entering her junior year. Seniors Meghan Bossone, a forward, and Claire Sullivan, a midfielder, will help anchor the team in the field.

Bossone, a captain, brings a wealth of soccer experience to the field.

“She was on a premier league team the past three or four years,” Jackson said. “She’s been traveling around the tri-state area and beyond. She has brought her knowledge to our game.”

Sullivan was injured during the majority of the season last year after suffering a fracture in her leg.

“I’m very excited to see her play,” Jackson said.

A bright spot of last year’s team was Siobhan Merrill, who is going into her sophomore year.

Jackson said the Monarchs should be a fast team this year.

“The speed has jumped up a lot,” she said.

The Monarchs open the league season Tuesday at The Stony Brook School.

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