Prior to the first day of practice on Monday, Eastchester senior Anna Hughes couldn’t help but feel butterflies.
Aside from the usual jitters that come before the start of a new season, Hughes wondered how the Eagles might replace many key players that helped them reach the Class A section final in 2013.
“It’s definitely a struggle,” Hughes said on Tuesday. “When I was thinking about this coming season and all of the players that we lost, I was kind of nervous. But as we got into it, I realized that people do want to step up and show what they’ve got. We have juniors Erin Ahern and Skylar Capasso, and they’re really showing that they’re strong enough to compete with us, and they want to push to be starters. It’s helping a lot.”
In order to maintain success in any high school sport, it’s going to take fresh faces coming up through the program to infuse new energy and talent. And that’s exactly what Eastchester is hoping for this season.
Gone are all three of its All-Section players from last year’s run – Monica DiDonato, Dava Fortunato and Rachel Berk – but the goal is to avoid taking a step back.
“We definitely lost a lot of amazing players – Monica, Dava and Rachel – but everybody thinks now that because we lost such good players that we’re underdogs, but I think that only makes us stronger,” senior midfielder Gail Kheyman said. “I think now we’re competing because people think that we’re not good enough. That only fuels us.”
• While coach Frank Fiore sounded pretty confident that the Eagles will continue to be a strong defensive team, he estimated that around 90 percent of their goals last season were scored by players that have graduated. He said that he expects to play a lot of low scoring games, and he’s also looking to see who can find the back of the net with consistency. Hughes and/or Amy DiPasquale could be the ones who end up playing up top. “I’m definitely pressured to score, and I know I have to step that up,” she said. “Monica last year was definitely one of those players, so I just have to be more selfish with the ball and look more to score.”
• Kheyman is another player to watch. She missed the entire regular season last year while recovering from ACL surgery, but returned for the playoffs and made some key contributions. She’s fully healthy now and ready to roll. “I tore my ACL playing lacrosse and I was out for the majority of the soccer season,” she said. “I finally got back at the end into our sectional games, and it was kind of hard for me, but at the end, I think I pulled it off really well and got back into the season pretty strong.”
• How’s the knee feeling now? “I’m so excited,” she said. “I think about it all of the time, how last year was such a struggle for me, but this year I’m so much stronger, and I can feel it when I run. Even for Hell Week, there’s no pain in my knee, which makes me really happy.”
• Fiore called DiDonato, who is currently playing at Adelphi University, possibly the best player to ever come out of the program. She played central midfield and will be the toughest to replace, and Hughes spoke about what she learned from her. “I played with Monica in the midfield for four years and she definitely taught me so much, like how to look for the through ball, or use your body to play with the ball,” she said. “It was an honor to play with them, and I definitely want to pass that (knowledge) to the other players.”