With nearly no margin for error to reach the playoffs, Long Beach girls’ soccer is aiming for perfection in Conference AA-III.
The Lady Marines need to go 7-1 in league play to achieve postseason play for the third time in five years. Long Beach dropped down a division after a 0-8-2 season in Conference AA-II last fall and enters the new campaign full of optimism with plenty of athleticism.
“We set a goal to undefeated this year,” coach Michael Santoro said. “We have very high expectations and are setting our goals extremely high.”
Long Beach graduated some key players to graduation, but brings back several returners stepping into increased roles. Senior forward Grace Conway, who netted two goals in a 2-0 non-league win against Island Trees last Friday, anchors the offense while junior defender Victoria Posada leads the backline. Sophomore goalie Sage Bernstein patrols the net for a second straight season after shining as a freshman with a pair of 12-save performances.
“She is very reliable and one of the hardest workers I have ever met,” said Santoro of Bernstein, who stopped 18 shots the victory over Island Trees. “We have a lock down goalie, which is very hard to find.”
The midfield unit is young, but full of skill led by sophomore Cate Conway along with freshmen Emily Aitchinson and Sklyer Catrambone. Santoro said the trio is already displaying veteran characteristics and is set put the program on a strong path in the next few years.
“I truly believe that these girls are going to be the future of Long Beach soccer,” Santoro said. “They are hard workers and great leaders.”
Around half of Long Beach’s roster was contributors for the Marines’ girls lacrosse team that reached the 2017 Class B semifinals. Santoro said he is excited to see what seniors Sarah Reznick and Emma Pfaff as well as junior Fiona Rafferty can bring to the offense after big spring seasons with lacrosse.
“They are athletic and competitive,” Santoro said of the lacrosse talent. “They are used to winning games.”
Bernstein and Posada are integral forces with the Long Beach defense that also include juniors Daisy Willard and Hannah Lewis. The versatile Rafferty may also play a role in the backline.
“We can literally play her anywhere,” Santoro said of Rafferty. “She is hands down one of the most athletic girls I have ever seen.”
Santoro is leading the Marines after serving as an assistant coach the last two years under Tara Wesselhoft, who is on maternity leave this fall. Since taking over as head coach in 2012, Wesselhoft has led Long Beach to great heights including ending a two-decade long playoff drought in 2013 and reaching the 2015 quarterfinals.
“She has given me so much guidance over the past two years,” Santoro said of Wesselhoft. “I am also so lucky to have such a talented and experienced assistant coach this year, Kaysi Ward, who has experience not only coaching but also playing for Long Beach High School's soccer team.”
Long Beach is next in action for a home match against Baldwin this Friday starting at 4:30 p.m.