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Girls Soccer Preview: Kessel gives SWR cause for optimism

Shoreham-Wading River lost 10 players to graduation, but don’t cry for the Wildcats. They still are expected to be one of the top girls soccer teams in League VI if not all of Suffolk County.

Coach Adrian Gilmore will deploy a younger team that is expected to be fast and stronger offensively and technical with the ball.

On the flip side, the Wildcats also are inexperienced.

Still, Gilmore has high expectations for her squad (10-3-1 last year), which was eliminated in the Suffolk Class A quarterfinals by Sayville via penalty kicks.

“As always, the goal is Long Island championship and/or the states,” she said. “The girls should do well in our league and make the playoffs.”

One big reason is senior Lydia Kessel, one of the best goalkeepers in New York. Kessel, who has allowed only 21 goals in the last three seasons, backstopped teams that captured one county crown and two league championships. She also was the 2016 small school goalkeeper of the year and has been an all-state player the past three seasons.

“She’s always communicating and directing her defense and team,” Gilmore said. “With a young defense she is constantly directing things from the back. Her knowledge of the game is incredible. She is also focused. Lydia never messes around or takes a practice off. One of the nicest things about her is her ability and desire to help her teammates out.”

Junior striker Nicky Constant is poised to be the key to the attack. She led the Wildcats in scoring in 2016 and all girls small schools players in the Town of Brookhaven Summer Soccer League. Constant has combined speed with good ball skills to become one dangerous forward.

“She is a dynamic player and fun to watch,” Gilmore said. “She has a nose for the goal and has heart.”

Bishop McGann-Mercy has been blessed with a more experienced squad, which coach Meaghan Macarthur hopes will result in a winning season.

Macarthur, whose team finished 4-10-2 while playing in League VII, is optimistic the Monarchs will move up a step this time around.

“I really see that we’re improving with every single practice,” she said. “We’re going to have some tough games with Babylon and Center Moriches, but I see us doing pretty well this season.”

Three talented seniors give Macarthur confidence — forward/midfielders Olivia Kneski and Abby Coniglio and defender Melina Santacroce. Sophomores Sarah Penny, a defender, and Hannah Echan, a defender/midfielder, also are expected to contribute. Senior Olivia Maxwell will handle the goalkeeping duties.

“Most of them have played together for a while,” Macarthur said. “We have a strong group of seniors. They know how to motivate the players and get them to play well.”

After enduring a 0-16 season in tough League II in 2016, there is nowhere to go but up for Riverhead and coach Brian Cunningham expects the Blue Waves to show progress this season.

“We look to be competitive this year,” he said. “We’re expecting a good season. Anything less will be disappointing.”

Riverhead’s hopes rest on a more experienced side and more depth.

“We have a lot of girls stepping up,” Cunningham said. “Our bench is deep this year. We’ll have girls who are not starting who are talented. We had only two subs two years ago.”

Three underclassmen could go a long way in helping determine the Blue Waves’ fate.

Sophomore defender and captain Megan McIntosh will start her third varsity season. “She doesn’t come off as an underclassman,” Cunningham said. “She plays well above her age. She’s a leader.”

Sophomore defender Krista Romer will help McIntosh solidify the back line, along with Roxana Lopez. “She’s a great athlete, a great competitor,” Cunningham said of McIntosh.

“They know the game,” he added. “They have a good sense of timing.”

Junior outside midfielder Bell Carson is another coach on the field and a very good communicator, Cunningham said.

“She is a smart and talented player,” he added. “She takes players under her wing.”

Photo caption: Shoreham-Wading River senior Lydia Kessel has allowed only 21 goals in the last three seasons as an all-state selection each of those years. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)