By MIKE SMITH
If their outbracket game against Nanuet provided the Huskies with the highest of highs on Oct. 25, the following day would be a dark one for the squad as Harrison fell 2-1 to Walter Panas in first-round soccer action.
Harrison’s exit from the playoffs belies the talent level of a team that rallied from a rough start to put together a stretch of wonderful soccer in the second half of the season.
After an 0-5 start this fall, Harrison rebounded nicely, playing better than .500 ball for the rest of the season to finish at 6-10.
Prior to their outbracket game against Nanuet, head coach Jon-Erik Zappala wanted to show the girls just how far they had come.
“The day before the game, we watched a video of us playing and we were a totally different team,” Zappala said. “We gelled a lot toward the end of the season and we started finishing our chances.”
Against Nanuet, the Huskies showed what happens when they finish, as goals from Erica LaManna and Erin Nelson gave Harrison all the offense they needed for the 2-0 win.
Zappala was equally enthusiastic about the way his defense has played all year; they were stellar in the outbracket game, with Gia Mancini making 13 stops in the win.
“In the beginning of the year, we weren’t controlling our touches, but, as the season went on, the girls began to use their body and then their feet on the second touch to distribute the ball,” said Zappala. “They kept us in a lot of games that we did win.”
Despite the heartbreaking loss to Panas the following day, however, Zappala is quite content when he looks ahead to 2014.
Harrison graduates seven seniors this year, including captains Sarah Mazza, Evann Specht, Rula Samad and Paige Brabant, but will return a young nucleus that was important to the team’s success this year.
Zappala expects LaManna and Kat Ensign to anchor the attack and midfield, and is especially high on Mancini, who shined as a sophomore.
“I had [former keeper] Jackie Fonseca, who was the best goalie that I’ve coached here, say that Gia is going to be a better goalie than her by the time she graduates,” Zappala said. “She’s only going to get better.”
Zappala also points to the Panas game as a rallying point for next year’s team, believing that this loss will galvanize the team and inspire them to get off to a better start in 2014.
“This is going to be the [thing] that really brings the team together,” he said. “We’re going to have chemistry and fire in our bellies from day one. We had a very young team this year, and I’m definitely looking forward to the future of this Harrison program.”