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Veteran Fontbonne ready to take next step

Fontbonne Hall has been the premier team in CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens in recent years, claiming five of the last six titles. However, the last three seasons the Bonnies saw their year end a game earlier than they would have liked in the CHSAA state semifinals.

They believe this is the year that could change.

“I think this year, even though we have had very good teams since I have been here, this year is probably our strongest team,” Fontbonne coach Victor Popovsky said.

His reason for thinking so starts at midfield where they are as deep and talented as any team in the city, starting with last season’s Post All-Brooklyn Player of the Year Katie Henderson. The lightning quick and aggressive senior scored 26 goals and dished out 15 assists a year ago. She and fellow senior Colleen Ryan form a stellar offensive duo. Ryan, who had 15 goals, is the unit’s steadying force.

“That’s what so great about it,” Henderson said of the midfield. “Everyone can do something. Everyone has something to bring to the table.”

They are joined by Henderson’s younger sister Cindy, who had a breakout freshman season, and Colleen’s younger sibling Casey. The Bonnies will have an added weapon in junior Rachel Gersh, a club player who transferred from Mary Louis before last year. She has excellent foot skills and has already blended in perfectly with her teammates.

“She is very fast,” Colleen Ryan said. “She has good moves, good ball control. She will be a good addition to the team.”

The Bonnies will also get talented junior forward Kristiana Padavona back full time after she missed games last season because of a recurring illness. Popovsky said she is so fast that she sometimes runs ahead of the ball when she pushes it forward. Padavona scored three goals in the team’s B/Q final win over Notre Dame to complete an undefeated league season.

“Every position just has a girl that dominates,” senior Annette Scotto said.

While the offense is the team’s unquestioned strength, Fontbonne will be filling in new players or old players in new spots on defense. The former midfielder Scotto moves to sweeper in place of the graduated Elena DeSantis. Chloe Stalzer Pagano will be the squad’s stopper and sophomore Nieve Rivera returns to the backline, which adds Erin Morris. Kristina Mandala moves in between the posts after backing up keeper Annie Rorke last season.

After the team’s 3-0 loss to St. Joseph Hill in the state semifinals, it was the first time the majority of the players expanded the time they spent played soccer in the offseason. A few played together indoors at Aviator Sports Complex. Gersh, Katie Henderson and Colleen Ryan all competed at the Empire State Games. The Ryan sisters and Stalzer Pagano traveled with a National Super Clubs all-star team to England to compete against international teams from July 31 to August 11. It’s all part of the squad’s dedication to trying to take their season a step further.

“This year I think we are capable of reaching it,” Popovsky said. “Winning the semifinals and making it to the final.”

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