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Girls Soccer: This sophomore’s a keeper

During the preseason, the big issue with the Mattituck/Southold/Greenport girls soccer team was who would take over the goalkeeper position. That matter has long since been resolved and isn’t a question any more.

Thank you, Aaliyah Shorter.

Shorter, a Mattituck High School sophomore, emerged as the number one (although she wears No. 0). She has started the great majority of matches and has impressed.

“Aaliyah has exceeded all my expectations,” coach Chris Golden said. “If you had seen her in the beginning of the season till now, the difference, for me, is nothing short of amazing. She’s really picked it up. She comes out. She makes saves.”

Shorter was the goalkeeper for the junior varsity team last year in her first full season in the complicated position. But, Golden noted, “As you know, there’s a big difference between the JV level and a competitive varsity match.”

To her credit, Shorter has picked things up quickly. She drew raves for her play in a 1-0 Suffolk County Division II loss at Miller Place Thursday night. Her decision-making was spot on in the final regular-season game for both teams.

“Excellent,” Golden said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better performance out of her. You know what, she did a great job.”

Shorter made three of her four saves in the first half and has 86 for the season, according to Newsday. She also collected six balls in her penalty area and pulled in a cross from a corner kick.

The young keeper made some quality stops, none better than her first serious test. Miller Place’s Olivia Ingenito drove a swerving ball from the left wing that the onrushing Marianna Kalin slightly redirected from close range. Shorter caught it.

Shortly after that, Miller Place (8-7, 7-7) had a promising passing sequence from Natalie Kappeler to Ingenito to Kalin, whose blast was blocked by Shorter.

“It was awesome,” MSG senior sweeper Sarah Santacroce said. “It was one of her best performances.”

Santacroce is in a position to know, and not just because of her current position on the field. Last season Santacroce split her time between playing in goal and in the field. She knows what life is like as a goalie. Shorter said Santacroce has been her mentor, an invaluable resource.

And Santacroce has seen her successor progress.

“She started off [this season], and her biggest issue was her head, and as soon as I talked to her and she broke through that confidence issue, she became a natural athlete and a natural goalkeeper,” Santacroce said. “As soon as she realized her talents, then that’s when she started to perform really well — and that did not take her long, let me tell you. She has great hands. She has great reflexes. She has hops like crazy. She can jump, and I’m blessed to have her as our keeper, seriously.”

Shorter also has some good genes. Her mother was a track and field star and two-time Suffolk Times Athlete of the Year for Mattituck when she was known as Lynette Wigington in high school.

Shorter played behind a defense of Santacroce, Saira Gomez and Grace Brodarick while Adrine Demirciyan was assigned to mark Ingenito. Ingenito, who has put up 30 goals and five assists this season, was shut out. She took two shots, both off target.

Kalin provided the game’s only goal, her 11th of the season, 14 minutes and 8 seconds into the second half. Paulina Gasparis launched a high free kick over 40 yards from goal. Shorter got her hands to it but was unable to pull the ball in and Kalin cashed in.

The Panthers nearly scored less than three minutes earlier, with Katie Marino drilling a 21-yard free kick off the underside of the crossbar before MSG (8-11-5, 8-6) scrambled to clear the ball.

Late in the first half, Miller Place’s Gionna Altebrando sent a close-range header over the crossbar with the goal at her mercy.

Miller Place held advantages of 17-6 in shots and 11-1 in corner kicks.

MSG now awaits the release of the playoff brackets to see what team it will face next. Claire Gatz, who has 12 goals and seven assists this season, leads the offense.

“Claire Gatz is always playing great,” Santacroce said. “I always know that we’re safe in the middle and we’re safe along the field when Claire’s there because she knows how to move the ball around and beat players one on one, which is a skill not many people have in a game situation.”

As for Shorter, she’s enjoying her life as a shot-stopper.

“I love it,” she said. “It’s amazing; that feeling of saving a goal, it’s awesome.”

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Photo caption: Aaliyah Shorter, who made the progression from junior varsity goalkeeper to varsity starter for Mattituck/Southold/Greenport, has drawn rave reviews for her play. (Credit: Bob Liepa)