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Girls Soccer: Riverhead returns to field for first game in two years

By no stretch of the imagination was this samba soccer (as in the stylish approach of the Brazilian national team) or Samba soccer (as in the sort of soccer that coach Samba Traore would like to see from his Riverhead High School girls team).

Then again, the Blue Waves are young. Real young.

Age-wise, they are legitimately akin to a junior varsity team. The team’s makeup: 10 freshmen, six sophomores, one junior and three seniors. One of those seniors, Marina Ronzoni, is the sole remaining player from the 2019 team. The other two seniors, goalkeeper Kaitlyn Gomez and midfielder/forward Juliza Castro, like many others on the team, are new to soccer, said Traore.

On Friday Riverhead played its first game in two years (the school did not field winter or fall sports teams the last school year because of budget cutbacks). That was tough enough, but then there was another not-so-minor complication: The opponent was North Babylon. Talented North Babylon.

That goes a long way toward explaining the 7-0 scoreline in North Babylon’s favor.

Welcome to the 2021 season, Riverhead!

Ronzoni, a senior center back, said, “In my head I was kind of like, ‘Oh, we’re playing North Babylon.’ ”

What transpired in the Suffolk County Division I game at Pulaski Sports Complex in Riverhead couldn’t have been a great surprise. North Babylon (3-0, 1-0) had taken a 3-0 lead before 10 minutes had expired and Daija Jones, the center back with the booming free kicks, had two goals and an assist before halftime.

It was quite an introduction to varsity soccer for the young Blue Waves.

Alexis Re, one of Riverhead’s 16 underclassmen, advancing the ball in midfield. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

“I thought it was definitely a challenge and it definitely opened our eyes to see what we have to work on and improve,” Ronzoni said. “Yeah, so definitely a wake-up call.”

North Babylon, which upset Commack in the first round of this past spring’s playoffs before losing to Northport, received a goal and an assist each from Shaniyah Myers and Aiyanna Williams-Fane. Julianna Hunter, Sofia Milheiser and Jenna Biondo also found the net. Suheyla Akyurek chipped in an assist. Savannah Rogers and Gabriella Carlo shared the shutout.

The Bulldogs have yet to allow a goal, defeating West Babylon, 1-0, and Deer Park, 2-0, in non-league games. They outshot Riverhead, 22-7.

“I couldn’t have asked for anything more from the first week,” said North Babylon coach Steve Corrado.

Jones’ first goal came off a 58-yard free kick that took a high bounce off the field turf, sailed over goalkeeper Tori Arm and into the net.

Arm, who relieved Gomez early in the first half, made some nice saves, going down to the turf to get to a low attempt by Myers and denying Isabella Pop on a breakaway.

North Babylon nearly had more goals, but Kimberly Jonke struck a long-range shot off the far right goalpost and Williams-Fane met Myers’ centering pass with a first-time effort off the crossbar.

“Today, unfortunately, it was a bad day,” said Traore.

But good in the sense that the Blue Waves were finally back in action, playing their first game since 2019.

“I didn’t know how much I missed it till I stepped out on the field,” said Ronzoni.

“We haven’t had a season in so long, and I feel like this is our first step in rebuilding Riverhead soccer,” said sophomore Alexis Re, an attacking central midfielder. She said: “We never stopped fighting. We never gave up.”

Riverhead, which totaled eight wins in the last three seasons it played, has its work cut out. Ronzoni and Kenia Bonilla are team captains, with Re and Lillian Pennachia leading the underclassmen.

Traore wants his players to learn, improve and take a positive approach, regardless of the caliber of opponent.

“You always got to go in with the mindset of going into a game, ‘I’m just going to win,’ ” he said. “You may think somebody is better than you, but give yourself a chance to face them and see what they have first.”

North Babylon had a lot.