THIELLS— It’s been two straight years now that the North Rockland girls soccer team has reached the biggest stage in the state. And twice the Red Raiders have been sent home without the hardware that they long for.
“I definitely think that we can build on it this year,” senior forward Amber Alfonzo said on Wednesday. “Getting that far for the second year in a row builds up our confidence and makes us want to get back even more. The motivation is always good. Losing twice to the same team hurts.”Could the third time be the charm?
North Rockland has met perennial Long Island power Massapequa in each of the last two Class AA state finals, falling one goal short on both occasions. But this year’s team may be the best-equipped to finish the job.
The Red Raiders graduated just two starters, which means that nine are back who helped guide the team to sectional and regional titles last season. That includes their top two scorers, Alfonzo and fellow senior Taylor Aylmer.
Alfonzo led North Rockland last year with 27 goals to go along with seven assists, while Aylmer added 19 goals and eight assists. Alfonzo will play up top in coach Vinny Apicella’s two-forward system with junior Naya Rivera, who is known for her long throw-ins. She led the team with 13 assists in 2014.
“It’s great,” Aylmer said. “I have complete trust in feeding them the ball, and I know that they can put the ball in the back of the net whenever they want.”
With so many key players back in the fold, the Red Raiders will undoubtedly be favored to win their third straight Section 1 title. But it’s an elusive state championship that has driven them throughout the offseason.
With the season just around the corner, the opportunity to seize it is right in front of them.
“Now that they’ve felt what it’s like to go to the state championship, they know the type of work that we expect them to put in so that we can get that far again,” Aylmer said. “We’re extremely committed. Everyone has a great work ethic and we all want the same goal, which is a state championship. I think if we work the same and stay motivated, we can make it there.”