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Massapequa defeats Shenendehowa to win Class AA state championship

CORTLAND, N.Y. — Lia Howard remembers being a Massapequa ball girl. Jessica Lynskey recalls seeing the pure joy on the players’ faces. Thalia Morisi and Julia Gagliano pictured when it would be their turn to try to do the same.

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Every Massapequa girls soccer player seems to have has a memory and connection to the Massapequa dynasty over the 21st century, which included three consecutive state titles from 2013-15 and reaching the state final the following two seasons. The girls on those teams became inspirations to the next generation of Massapequa soccer. When the once young, adoring fans had their turn on the pitch, they wanted to experience everything the former players did.

They accomplished that Sunday when Massapequa defeated Shenendehowa, 3-0, in the girls soccer state Class AA championship at SUNY Cortland. It’s Massapequa’s first state title since 2015 and the program’s eighth overall.

“This means everything,” Howard said. “I’ve watched Massapequa varsity girls soccer play since I was a little girl. I remember being the ball girl and chasing the ball around the field and looking at those girls like ‘Those girls are so cool,’ and to be one of those girls is a dream come true.”

Howard and her teammates have re-set the standard for young players in the Massapequa community to aspire to become.

“It’s really just a dream come true,” Lynskey said. “I remember watching all those older teams when I was younger win state championships and it’s always been a dream of mine so to be able to do it my senior year, I’m just speechless right now.”

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Massapequa came out aggressive from the opening whistle. The team was constantly in the attacking third and had 13 shots on goal without allowing one in the first half.

Massapequa broke through when Morisi scored off a scramble in front of the goal following a corner kick from Gianna Savella with 7:56 remaining in the first half. And Massapqeua wasted no time afterward as Howard found Savella for a goal off a through ball 20 seconds later.

“Every game has been a build-up to getting to states,” said Morisi, who also scored the game’s final goal. “And now we came here and needed to prove we should be here and we did it and got our state championship.”

Being the group to return a state championship to Massapequa was the players’ mission from Day One.

“It was our only motivation,” Gagliano said. “Ever since we stepped on the field for the first day of tryouts, all we said was we wanted to make it to the state championship and we wanted to win the state championship.”

Massapequa finished 20-0-1 and outscored opponents, 87-16, this fall. The team also sports a 33-1-1 record over the last two seasons.

“To be honest with you,” coach Bruce Stegner said, “if we didn’t win, there would have been a little bit of disappointment with the season because they deserved to be the champs.”

And to become champions in an undefeated season made the moment mean that much more to the team.

“We weren’t really [focused] on the undefeated season,” Morisi said. “We just wanted to get back here. But that was just icing on the cake to make history at Massapequa soccer.”

Massapequa featured 12 seniors, each with the goal of returning the team to its championship roots.

“I feel like my life is complete right now,” Howard said. “Being able to say I won a state championship with these amazing people and this great program is the proudest I’ve ever been in my life.”

The four-year varsity players have experienced nearly all sides of Massapequa girls soccer, from losing in a county final, losing in a state semifinal to not even making a county championship game. But to end with a state crown makes the adversity all worth it.

“I wouldn’t have wanted it to end any other way,” Lynskey said. “My last four years on this team, I’ve seen the highest and the lowest and this is absolutely the highest point I could have gotten to and I’m so grateful.”

The 2021 Massapequa girls soccer team has cemented its own legacy.

“They’ve been thinking about this since they were little kids,” Stegner said. “It was 15 years of hard work to get here and they didn’t want to go home without a state championship. They were determined.”

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