Big Blue is coming. Katie Seccafico scored a pair of goals and Emma Greenhill notched the game winner in overtime as the Huntington girls’ soccer team nipped Smithtown East, 3-2 on Senior Day at Blue Devil Stadium and qualified for a berth in the Suffolk Class AA playoffs.
Both teams entered the game needing at least a tie to qualify for post-season play. With so much on the line, coaches and players held nothing back during 100 minutes of frenzied play.
Huntington defeated Smithtown East earlier this fall when Seccafico lofted a 35 yard shot over the goalie’s head as time expired. Both teams came into this week’s game expecting a closely fought contest and that’s exactly how it played out.
The Bulls scored three minutes into the game and Huntington head coach John Walsh worried that it might be a long afternoon. But the Blue Devils quickly pulled together as a team and went on tie the game by halftime and then take the lead early in the second half on two goals by Seccafico off assists by Nicole Abbonandelo and Marissa Stafford.
Leading 2-1 and with victory in plain sight, Huntington and its fans were stunned when Smithtown East’s Brooke Flugman slipped a shot past Blue Devil freshman goalkeeper Ainsley Lumpe to tie the game with 58 seconds remaining in regulation.
Huntington little time to feel sorry for itself. After a two minute break, the teams were back on the field for the first of two 10 minute overtime periods. About halfway through the first overtime, Seccafico fed a pass to Greenhill who put the ball in the net to give the Blue Devils a 3-2 lead, which the team nursed until time expired.
“Today’s game was huge for us,” Greenhill said. “We knew coming into it that it was going to be a tough one, but that we could beat them again. It was very intense throughout the entire game and we knew that letting up was not an option. Once we were headed into overtime the girls and I wanted to stay positive and reflect on all of the good things we had done during the game leading up to that moment; also what we could fix to make sure we came out with a win. I was completely ecstatic that we won the game. It was a team effort completely. I’m really confident heading into playoffs. We have come into our own at the perfect time in the season. The last couple of games have given us the confidence to go out and compete with the top teams in our league and I think we can definitely go far in the playoffs.”
After playing soccer as a freshman, Greenhill sat out her sophomore and junior years. She’s headed to James Madison University to play lacrosse next fall, but she decided to return to the soccer field as a senior and Walsh and assistant coach Vinny Tannazzo couldn’t be more pleased to have her back in the fold.
“To say I’m happy I decided to play soccer this year for Huntington would be an understatement,” Greenhill said. “I decided not to play my sophomore and junior year due to injury, but I ultimately came back to do something that I really loved and missed. I also have to give credit to Catie Ricciardelli, who definitely encouraged me to play the entire summer. We are a family and playing together is really special. We continue to grow and push each other as a team and program with help from our two amazing coaches, Walsh and Tannazzo. Huntington soccer is about giving it your all on and off the field and playing with confidence regardless of your opponent. It truly means a lot to me to be a part of this program.”
Ahead by a goal with 15 more minutes of overtime, Huntington knew it couldn’t rely solely on its defense to hold off Smithtown East, which mounted a furious assault. “We needed to have our offense stay in the game and that’s what it did,” Walsh said.
But the Blue Devil defense played its part to perfection. “There was a lot of pressure coming into the game because it was our last hope to make the playoffs,” said Amber Stieve, Huntington’s sensational sweeper. “We started out unsteady, but we adjusted. Our offense kept us in play with some amazing goals. The defense held its own and played an aggressive game. Going forward into playoffs we need to start out strong and go for it all. We have to leave it all out on the field. The defense needs to stay aggressive and make as few mistakes as possible. On offense we need to control the pace of the game and rip more shots.”
Lumpe made a series of dazzling saves off blistering shots by Smithtown East. The freshman showed again why she’s considered one of Suffolk’s best goalies, compiling 12 saves in the biggest game of the year.
“We didn’t let down during the entire game and we finally reached our goal of making the playoffs,” said Ricciardelli, who is a midfield star for the Blue Devils. “I am so proud of everyone on the team and I can’t wait to see how far we will get. Everyone on this team has been so amazing and made my last season definitely a memorable one.”
The game played out before a crowd of about 150 on a cool afternoon. Posters commemorating the careers of Huntington’s 14 seniors were affixed to the front of the bleachers. Principal Brenden Cusack and Director of Athletic Georgia D. McCarthy stood not far from the field and cheered the Blue Devils on.
“I’m so excited that we beat Smithtown East,” Seccafico said. “We worked hard the whole game and we really have improved since the beginning of the season. There's no greater feeling than winning on senior day! Playing for Huntington soccer has been such a great experience for me, creating friendships in all grades and having a lot of fun. I wouldn't trade my last four years in the program for anything and I'm really grateful to my coaches and teammates for allowing me to have such a successful soccer career
Whatever success Huntington has achieved this fall and whatever it ultimately accomplishes in the post-season has been and will be directly attributable to the Blue Devils playing together as a team. The squad didn’t hit its full stride until it completely understood that without everyone on the field fully engaged in every aspect of the game it would never realize its potential.
“It has been a great experience playing for Huntington soccer; one that I will always cherish,” said Abbondandelo, who has excelled at defense and midfield for the Blue Devils. “From my coaches to my teammates, everyone supports one another and picks each other up when needed. Today was a huge win for us and it took everyone to get there. I hope we can go far in playoffs as this will be my last opportunity to play soccer along with the other seniors. It’s a privilege to represent Huntington.”
One of the keys to Huntington’s success this fall has been its stellar defensive unit, including unsung heroes like Grace Connell and Christina Aureliano. Both seniors played key roles in the playoff clinching victory over Smithtown East.
“We gave it everything we had, leaving it all on the field, as our coaches encouraged us to,” Aureliano said. “We knew it would not be easy, but we are always up for a challenge. The first half may have been a little shaky, but as coach always says, we are a second half kind of team. As playoffs approach, we will train even harder and will be prepared to put up a fight. As for my whole Huntington girls’ soccer career, it has meant a lot to me. I have been able to play the game I love and create lasting friendships. I have been blessed to be a part of such great teams, however, it is not over yet and there will be more to come!”
Huntington is excited to be headed to the playoffs and anxious to show Suffolk just how good the team is. “As Coach Walsh likes to say, ‘Big Blue is coming,’” Abbondandelo said.
Blue Devils Celebrate Senior Day
Once the Huntington girls’ soccer team had wrapped up its playoff clinching 3-2 overtime victory over Smithtown East, players, coaches and parents headed into the high school for dinner and Senior Day festivities.
A catered meal featuring Italian food was served while a running slide show featuring highlights of the season played on a large screen. The show featured hundreds of photos of every game on the schedule this fall.
Once everyone finished dinner and dessert, head coach John Walsh stood before the crowd and spoke about each of the 14 seniors on this year’s roster, describing in personal terms what each of the teenagers has meant to the program.
The senior group includes Niamh Condon, Nicole Abbondandelo, Christina Aureliano, Emma Greenhill, Kelsey Zavala, Nicole Myszynski, Katie Seccafico, Amber Stieve, Hailey Gallagher, Angela Ceron, Alexandra Lourenso, Sarah White, Grace Connell and Catie Ricciardelli.
Walsh called each player up to the front of the cafeteria and spoke eloquently about their attributes as players and teammates. Each of them was given a gift bag.
Underclassmen created posters commemorating the careers of each of the season and hung them from the front of the bleachers during the game. Seniors brought the posters inside the school for the dinner and later took them home to forever cherish and remind them of their time as Blue Devils.