Defense sets tone for Clarke


That four out of five captains on Clarke girls’ lacrosse team are defenders speaks to head coach Rich Aragona’s philosophy. He builds teams based on defense, and this year’s squad consists of mostly experienced seniors and green sophomores led by a gritty defensive unit.

Michelle Barahona, Caitlin Russell and Queenie Ho are all captains and starting defenders who play alongside fellow seniors Jen Rivera and starting goalie Jen Sawicki, another captain.

“My entire starting defense all just work their hearts out,” Aragona said. “To me, a strong four-player defense is gold.”

Clarke (4-2) struck gold early with two road wins, 13-5 at East Meadow and 12-11 at MacArthur, to open the season. But the Rams lost control of the ball and relinquished leads in the next two games at home, falling to Bethpage 9-8 and Floral Park 15-10.

“Against Floral Park, we lost by five because we came out flat and didn’t shoot very well,” Aragona said. Even at MacArthur, the Rams allowed a 9-1 lead slip away before sophomore attacker Amanda Seims broke an 11-11 tie with an overtime goal. Seims has 20 goals and five assists on the season.

Her older sister, senior Madeline Seims, is not only Clarke’s top scorer but also led Long Island entering this week’s action with 38 goals and six assists through the first six games that include another two wins, 13-10 at Jericho and 15-8 against Roslyn. The sophomore-senior siblings make a strong duo. “They feed and pass to each other, they’ll share shots, they’ve very skilled inside that eight [meter zone],” Aragona said. “No fear in there, which is very valuable and important.”

Other key midfielders this season are juniors Katherine Barahona, a quick, imposing player with solid throwing and catching skills, and Liz Silverman, a starter who wields a strong defensive and offensive stick, scoring two goals apiece against Roslyn, Bethpage and MacArthur. “She has immense potential,”  Aragona said of Silverman. 

Barahona and Silverman are backed up by freshmen midfielders Graceann Murphy and Alyssa Kozak, who both demonstrate exceptional speed and stick skills, as well as freshmen Melissa Martins and Nicole Zappala.

Clarke’s attack is fielded by seniors Christine Vo and Lauren Savino and junior Natalia Reyes, who are adept at drawing in and disrupting opposing defenders to provide support for their offense. 

“There’s so much support going on for our shooters that it’s one of the most positive things about this season,” Aragona said.

Offensive contributors off the bench are senior Rachel Freed, juniors and first-year players Emily Schnapp and Korinna Giamundo, along with freshman Maleah Cobham and Joanna Peters. Defensive backups include senior Gabby Kozak, junior Alessia Taraborelli and freshman Hailey Calabrese and sophomore goalie Maddie Normile.

If the Rams are to return to the playoffs, after falling to Oyster Bay 9-8 in the first-round last year, they’ll need to demonstrate better ball control, Aragone said. “I expect our game play to become tighter and smoother which will helps us reach the playoffs,” he added.

Clarke’s remaining schedule includes games at Seaford, Division, Hewlett and Hicksville and at home against Baldwin.