East Hampton’s girls soccer team has a bond that’s hard to come by.
With girls that have played together for four or five years now, head coach Cara Nelson is expecting her Bonackers to break through and into the postseason for the first time since 2011, the only time the team has ever made the playoffs. With 15 returnees, it’s a definite possibility.
“They know the style of play that we are looking to utilize and we’ve been building on that for the last few years,” she said, adding the team has turned around an 0-16 2017 season to finish 7-8-1 last year. “This season we’re building even more off of that and we are looking to get above .500 and be a playoff team.”
Leading the charge will be junior forward Asha Hokanson.
“She’s going to be our top goal scorer,” Nelson said. “She’s got great speed, great footwork. We’re going to be playing balls up to her in hopes of her being able to put the ball in the back of the net throughout the year.”
In midfield, senior Alden Powers will be playing the ball forward to Hokanson, and defensively, senior Valeria Marin and junior Paige Cordone will be big voices in the backfield. Junior Lucy Short will return in net.
“She’s been an integral part of the success of our team,” Nelson said of Short. “She’s been an unstoppable force in net for us. We’ll be looking to her strength and leadership again this year to keep us in games that are very winnable.”
Only losing two seniors was big for the coach. The switch from leagues to power ranking also aided in the success of the program, competing against more comparable and local teams like Pierson-Bridgehampton (2-12-1 last season), Southampton (6-8-1), and Hampton Bays (0-16).
“Now the schedule affords us to really have games where we can grind it out. If we work hard, we can win those games at the end of the day,” she said. “And I think travel is key. For us, the last few seasons prior to having power rankings we’d be on a bus two-plus hours one way. For these girls, that’s tough. Many of the times they’re sleeping, they’re relaxing, and then you get off the bus after not having moved for over two hours. It takes some time to get into a game.”
Leading the middle school team two years ago has helped, too. Nelson has been working with the girls for some time, building the style of play she’s hoping to see from them, while having some time to reinforce that last year with the eight seniors on the squad.
“We’re looking to possess the ball, make smart plays. Holding onto the ball to create opportunities,” Nelson said. “We’ve seen a lot of progress — a lot of individual and collective growth from these girls.”
Hurricanes Warming Up
Westhampton Beach’s girls soccer team will be relying on experienced returners to lead the way, but head coach Erika Habersaat is really hoping all her girls can realize their potential this season.
“They have skill, talent, athleticism,” she said. “Now it’s really about communicating and playing together.”
The Hurricanes (9-6-1) were one win away from making the playoffs last season, with a 2-1 loss decided with 6:43 left in a September 24 game at Eastport-South Manor being the catalyst. Now, Westhampton Beach is without nine seniors, seven starters, so those returning with significant playing time will be more important than ever.
“We definitely have a few players that got some time last year that are really going to have to step up this year, but we’re going to be a pretty new team across the board on the field,” Habersaat said. “I’m looking for these girls to be leaders.” Returning senior starting goalkeeper Jade Merrell and junior defender Molly Skorobohaty will be leading the back field, and junior Caroline Henke will be heading the front.
“She’s a strong attacker,” the coach said of Henke. “She’ll fill a big role.”
While the team is less sophisticated in its playing style than in years past, focusing on more of a direct game, sophomore midfielder Trinity Valenzuela, who has been on the team since eighth grade, will pick up the slack in that department.
“She’s a strong player,” Habersaat said. “I look to her to bring the skill level up.”
The Hurricanes competed in the Brookhaven Town summer league, which helped her get an early opportunity to see where the girls stood before practice began on August 26. Although senior Isabella Giacchetto didn’t play much as a junior, Habersaat sees her working hard, saying she performed well across the simmer season.
“I think I’ve definitely got an idea of what we need to work on,” she said. “A lot of it is trying to gel as a new team.”