After missing last year’s postseason by a single win, the Eastport South Manor girls soccer team is hitting the pitch with a much more focused approach in 2014.
“The mindset of the team is different this year,” said Becky Thorn, who is in her second season as head coach. “These girls are sick of losing in soccer. They play lacrosse and basketball, and they win.
“There’s a totally different feeling out there this year than last,” she continued. “Since day one of summer practice, they have been out there proving themselves and working to further understand the game.”
The squad’s three biggest losses to graduation were center midfielder Dakota Mason, Megan Curley, who was the Lady Sharks’ top defensive player last season, and striker Rebecca Tooker. Even with those voids, Thorn is confident her team has more than enough talent to make up for those vacancies—and then some.
Seniors Samantha Giacolone and Kristen Karszen will captain the squad of 22 this season.
Taking over in center midfield is Jordan Steinroder, and returning to the field after making the move to volleyball last season is Danielle Senecal; she will also be a significant offensive contributor for the Lady Sharks.
Giacolone will anchor the defense as stopper, with Kelly Gomez returning to sweeper. Junior Gillian Belfiore will move into the starting role as goalie as last year’s keeper, Nijay Brown, moves to striker. Brown, a senior, is also a kicker on the ESM varsity football team as she was in 2013.
ESM moves up to League IV this year for regular season play and remains a Class AA school for postseason action. With the move up, there will be no easy games for the Lady Sharks; however, with their new focused approach, the girls and their coach are confident in their abilities to make an appearance in the playoffs this year.
The Lady Sharks will host Center Moriches on Friday, September 5, for the squad’s first non-league contest and will open League IV play at home on Thursday, September 11, against East Islip.
It will be a mixture of new and old for the boys squad this season. The Sharks boast both a new coach and a new league, but also will be returning a slew of veterans who are working to make the pending transition a smooth one.
Tony Chernis, who spent three years as the junior varsity coach at ESM, takes over the helm as the varsity head coach. He replaces former coach Pete Novellano who accepted a new job outside the district. Prior to leading the junior varsity squad at ESM, Chernis—a full-time teaching assistant at the high school—has coached travel teams.
Senior midfield Mike Flynn was named the team captain of the squad of 19. Flynn, a three-year varsity veteran, emerged as the likely choice for captain before the season even began.
“Not only is he a good player but he took the role, grabbed it and ran with it,” Chernis said. “Before I even took over as head coach, he started leading up some summer practices off-site on his own. He was definitely hungry for the opportunity.”
Last year’s squad, which did not qualify for the playoffs, saw the graduation of four seniors, with the most notable losses being midfielder Jacob Black and goalie Tom Biasetti. Aside from those departures, the team remains mostly intact.
Offensively, ESM will be looking to returning All-League player Keith Foley and junior Ray Cirko to anchor the offense, as well as Gerson Larin, a junior, who spent his sophomore season at William Floyd High School after playing on the ESM junior varsity team as a freshman.
In the back, it’ll be sophomore Ryan Richer and senior Connor Langdon.
Perhaps the spot with the most depth for the Sharks is in the net. ESM has a pair of keepers—sophomore Tyler Flaherty and junior Matt Hayes—who, as the season gets under way, will be splitting time evenly. That could change if one stands out.
“The guys are all familiar with one another, which is something we can use to grow on,” Chernis said. “They can all play, so now I just have to figure out how to get them to gel and work together.
“They need to take the friendships they have off the field and move it on the field,” he continued. “They need to talk. We need to be a vocal, smart team. We have to play possession a lot and need to get away from the kick and run. We need to have ball control.”
This year, the Sharks will move to League IV and return as a Class AA squad for postseason play. According to Chernis, last year, five of the top 10 teams in the county came from League IV, which leaves the Sharks pretty much settled at the bottom of the field of eight in terms of preseason expectations.
“They’re not familiar with us and we’re not familiar with them,” Chernis said when asked about his team’s league opponents, “which could be a good thing. It could be a bad thing. We’ll have to wait and see.”
The Sharks will open non-league play on Monday, September 8, against Shoreham/Wading River. League play starts on Friday, September 12, at home against East Islip.