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West Hempstead relying on seniors to lead way

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Though 16 months have passed since West Hempstead last stepped on the soccer pitch, the Rams are looking to pick up where they left off in 2019 when they posted a 7-2-1 conference mark and split a pair of Nassau Class A postseason overtime games.

Coach Chris Van Kovics brings back a portion of the starting 11 from the team which defeated Hewlett, 2-1, in OT, and lost a 3-2 double OT heartbreaker to Island Trees.

“It’s going to be an interesting season and I’m hoping it goes as smooth as basketball when we played every game on the schedule,” Van Kovics said. “The kids in our school have all done a great job following the Covid protocols. It’s not an easy situation and I’ve been impressed by how well they’ve handled everything.”

The Rams will rely on some key seniors to carry over their momentum from last season. Forward Ellean Maldonado was a fixture at offseason workouts and is a captain in his third varsity season. He’s quick and athletic and leads the scoring hopes with Jalen Jean, who has a nose for the ball and the skills to put it in the back of the net.

The midfield features Mohammed Zkuat, a target on set pieces who scored multiple times off headers in 2019. He’s also a physical defender. “He does a lot of good things for us,” Van Kovics said. Also returning to the midfield is Edwin Gutierrez, who is shifty and nifty with the ball. “He’s a great distributor and not afraid of tight spaces,” the coach noted.

The defensive zone is led by senior Luis Zavala and junior Kevin DeCristoforo. Zavala brings plenty of experience and what he lacks in size he makes up with smart decisions and getting himself in the right place at the right time. DeCristoforo directs all the traffic in front of sophomore goalkeeper Bryan Burgess, who comes off an outstanding 2019 campaign and has looked sharp in practice, Van Kovics said.

The Rams face conference rivals Malverne/East Rockaway, Cold Spring Harbor, Carle Place, Oyster Bay, Island Trees, Friends Academy, Wheatley and Locust Valley once apiece.

West Hempstead’s girls are tackling the same group of opponents for new coach Monique Roberge. “We have an exciting young team of competitive kids,” she said.

Up front, juniors Ashley Palmer and Julianna Glaudino are club players with strong skill sets. “They have high-level tactical skills and they’re extremely fast and athletic,” Roberge said.

Junior Mackenzie Cates is a defensive-minded midfielder who also brings the ability to ignite the transition game. Junior Catherine Andree is one of the Rams’ most versatile and aggressive players who’ll see time in the midfield and on defense. Junior sweeper Victoria Grace Leconte is their most accomplished defender.