Chris Golden gathered his players near midfield on the turf at Southold High School at the beginning of practice Tuesday afternoon. The Mattituck/Southold/Greenport girls soccer team had just gotten its first taste of competition one day earlier, defeating Riverhead in a non-league opener, 5-4, and the coach already had one eye toward the future.
When the season kicks into gear with a non-league game against Babylon Sept. 7, MSG will face an immediate test against a fellow Class B team.
To make the playoffs, he explained to the players, MSG needed to compile at least a .500 record in the upcoming league season. Or, they can simply finish as one of the top two Class B teams.
It’s a clearer path, particularly after the disappointment the team experienced at the end of last season, when a 7-5-2 league record left them on the outside of the playoffs. MSG was a victim of power points, finishing with 101.25, while Center Moriches, at 7-7, tallied 101.86. The difference of sixth-tenths of a power point was enough for Center Moriches to play Southampton in a Class B semifinal. The Red Devils went on to win the Class B county title before losing to Wheatley.
A new year has brought another new format to Suffolk County girls soccer. Gone are the power points and two divisions — separated by Class AA in one and the remaining classifications in the other.
Replaced is a setup with four geographical leagues, so MSG will play some familiar foes like the South Fork schools, along with some new opponents like Rocky Point and Comsewogue.
“It’s really a different group of teams,” Golden said.
MSG returns a balanced mix of seniors along with some younger players who are expected to contribute as the team aims to get back into playoffs.
Golden and the coaching staff faced an early challenge just to sort out the rosters. Nearly 70 players came out this summer, enough girls that the program will field two junior varsity teams.
“I’m happy that the program is really going in the right direction,” he said. “We can put kids kind of at developmentally appropriate places and then there’s opportunity for advancement for kids who are younger to move up. The program’s in a real good point right now.”
MSG will rely on senior Brienna McFarland, who brings a lot of experience to the field.
“She’s a very talented midfielder and a key part of our whole play,” Golden said.
Senior Mei Reilly is another key returner in the midfield along with Megan Tobin. Senior Brynn Gardner returns to help anchor the defense.
Casey Szczotka, the lone sophomore on the team, was a standout last year with her ability to find the back of the net. She plays in the midfield as well.
“She more than holds her own,” Golden said.
Junior Cameron Stanton returns at forward and is the lone player from Greenport High School. She tallied a hat trick against Riverhead Monday. Junior Alyvia Apparu is a “lightning fast” forward, Golden said.
“We have a really good core group of players,” Golden said. “And then we really work in a lot of other players.”
Golden said he plans to start the season using a mostly simple 4-4-2 formation.
“Out of that, you can always morph into other formations,” he said.
The new season marks the closest return to normalcy since 2019. The pandemic led to an abbreviated spring season in 2021, followed by a quick turnaround to last year’s fall season for the 2021-22 school year.
Golden compared the oddities of the pandemic-era seasons to “like a nagging injury you just can’t get rid of.”
“You’re playing through it, but you know it’s there, you’re hoping, but the only way it’s going to get better is in time,” he added. “That’s kind of how we looked at it.”
One of the bonuses of a combined team is double the celebrations. MSG will hold senior day ceremonies on separate dates for the Mattituck and Southold seniors. And the team will also play on homecoming for each of the schools.
“We do two of everything,” Golden said.
The team will split its home games between Southold and Mattituck high schools. The league season begins Sept. 9 with a home game at Mattituck against Eastport-South Manor.