The Great Neck South varsity girls soccer team started the season without a loss in its first nine games, a feat last accomplished in 2016.
On the heels of a regular-season conference title last year, head coach Bill Neville and his team, now 8-0-1 and leading Conference AB5, know what must be done to not only repeat but to build upon last year’s success.
“Last year, the girls learned how to win,” said Neville. “Winning the conference, but losing in the playoffs left a sour taste in their mouths. They haven’t forgotten that feeling at all this season.”
After a 4-0 shutout loss at the hands of Locust Valley ended their 2018 season, Neville and his team set the tone in 2019, winning their first seven matches by outscoring opponents 31-8. Their first game of the year not resulting in a win came at the hands of the team’s rival Great Neck North, as they tied 1-1.
Rather than having the realization of tying a team without a win on the year resonate negatively, the team responded with a 4-0 win at home over Hewlett. The win was the team’s eighth of the year, matching last year’s win total.
Neville said the team might have have responded differently without the leadership of the six starting seniors.
“That tie felt more like a devastating loss to the girls,” he said. “They weren’t pointing any fingers afterward, but they all held themselves accountable for allowing that team to hold us to one goal. Our seniors especially are at the helm of that leadership.”
Among the seniors is goalkeeper Maya Pfeiffer, whose 50 saves are second best in the conference. She is on pace for a fourth consecutive season of improvement and to surpass last season’s total of 62 saves. Averaging around five saves per game, and allowing just one goal per game has made an impression on the coaching staff and the rest of the team.
“Maya’s play has been reflective of the team … consistently improving,” Neville said. “We’ve had to make some players play several different positions, and switch up the lineup a lot, but it’s nice to have her as that one constant in goal.”
With a season that has featured several injuries to players, and having Kristina Garcia, one of the premier players, take a leave to play for the Dominican national soccer team for her age group, Neville emphasized the importance of flexibility. Some players have had to move from their traditional role of defenders and play more midfield and offense, while having others who are typically on the attack, hold back and stay closer to the goal.
“That’s been one of the main differences in this team that I’ve seen,” said Neville. “In my 11 years of coaching teams, the way this team is so unselfish, and the knowing to use each other because they understand they need to, is something that you can’t coach.”
Garcia, who was named the Conference Player of the Year in 2018, picked up where she left off, leading the conference in both goals (16) and total points (32).
The offense was expected to lessen a bit once she departed for her brief hiatus to the Dominican Republic two weeks ago, but since her departure, the team has scored 11 goals in three games, with players such as junior midfielder Jill Klieman stepping up. In those games, Klieman has contributed four goals and three assists.
“Jill has been huge for our team,” said Neville. “Obviously Kristina is a big part of our offense, but when you’re able to have someone like Jill step into the offense and attract that same amount of attention from opposing defenses, it makes everyone else’s assignments so much easier to manage.”
The Lady Rebels have five regular-season games remaining, with their opponents’ combined record at 9-12-4. Neville said the remainder of the regular season is the most crucial stretch of the year. The team’s next two games feature Long Beach and Mineola, the only two other teams in the conference with winning records.
“I’m extremely proud of this squad,” Neville said. “They have overcome some obstacles, hold themselves accountable, and show extreme maturity going into the final stretch of the year. I think we’re in great shape to build off what we couldn’t finish last year.”