BOB LIEPA PHOTO
Smithtown Christian’s Chelsea Bellini, right, gave Emma Richter and the rest of the Southold/Greenport players all they could handle.
Even a defending regional girls soccer champion like the Smithtown Christian Crusaders has uncertainties entering a new season. Some of the Crusaders acknowledged that they didn’t know what to expect when they took the field for their season-opening game against the Southold/Greenport Clippers on Tuesday.
That uncertainty didn’t last for long, though, as Smithtown Christian zipped passes to feet and played smartly. The team’s striking duo of Christina Casamassina and Chelsea Bellini demonstrated why it may be one of the most potent attacking partnerships on Long Island.
Either Casamassina or Bellini had a foot in all but one of their team’s goals in a 7-2 win at Southold High School. Casamassina struck for three goals and two assists while Bellini registered two goals and two assists in the Suffolk County League VIII game. Bellini, a superb dribbler, launched 13 shots herself, putting seven of them on goal.
“They both have a sense for the game, and just their technical skills and their ability to work and interplay with each other is just phenomenal,” said Southold/Greenport Coach Kevin McGoey, whose team was the League VII champion and a Suffolk Class B finalist last year.
Indeed, Smithtown Christian, which won its third regional title last year before falling in the New York State Class D semifinals, remains a team to be taken seriously.
It was yet another tough test for the young Clippers (0-3, 0-1), who were outscored by 9-2 in their first two games against the Mattituck Tuckers and Babylon Panthers. They will hit the road for their next game today against The Stony Brook School Bears, the defending state Class C champions. That’s quite a challenge for the Clippers, whose only returning varsity players from last year are midfielder Megan Knapp and defenders Emily Metz and Emma Richter.
“It’s a brand new team,” McGoey said. “We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores who have never played before on JV or varsity, and to step right into the varsity team and to get a significant amount of minutes is huge for them.”
The coach welcomed the stiff competition. “I think it’s good for the young team to see programs that are always strong and how they play so we have something to strive for,” he said.
They could do a lot worse than emulate the Crusaders. Smithtown Christian dominated play, launching 36 shots to the Clippers’ three. Southold/Greenport goalkeeper Melissa Rogers was kept busy, making 12 saves. Her best save came late in the first half when she parried a blast by Casamassina off the crossbar for a corner kick.
Casamassina, a senior, and Bellini, a junior, worked well together, as did the rest of the Crusaders. The Crusaders made effective diagonal runs that enabled them to create and find passing space.
“It went better than I expected actually,” Casamassina said. “It looked like we were having fun actually. I liked that.”
Smithtown Christian had the Clippers on their heels early. Casamassina scored twice and Bellini added a third goal within a seven-minute span in the first half for a 3-0 lead.
Later, Shannon Casey joined the scoring parade for Smithtown Christian with her first shot 19 seconds into the second half. Smithtown Christian’s other goal was an own goal in which a right-wing cross by Kateiyn Jones ricochetted off the head of Southold/Greenport midfielder Jessica Carlson and flew into the right side of the goal in the 53rd minute.
Southold/Greenport received both of its goals from Knapp, and Metz played a part in both of them. Knapp cut Smithtown Christian’s lead to 3-1 when she tapped in a free kick from Metz in the 24th minute. Smithtown Christian was up, 5-1, before Knapp deposited her second goal. Goalkeeper Shannon Sweeney mishandled a free kick by Metz and Knapp was in place to bury the ball in the 64th minute.
“We have to get confidence,” Knapp said. “We have a lot of young girls … and I think we just all have to work with each other.”
That is something Smithtown Christian has shown it can do.
“Today we did well,” Smithtown Christian Coach Steven Chandler said. “Our objective was to be a passing team, try to pass well, make some good ball movements, pass well, pass quick, take opportunities when they come.”
If the Crusaders play as planned, they could return to the state final four. Chandler said, “There’s no reason why we should not be there.”