By Owen O'Brien

After walking off the field following a loss in the Nassau Class A semifinals last season, the Cyclones were immediately thinking about how they could improve the following fall. But that opportunity didn’t present itself in September — and for the senior class, there was no way of knowing if it would at all.

"The uncertainties have been hard to cope with," senior forward Kate Sweeney said. "But we all worked really hard to stay ready for the season and we are all really ready for this season. We’ve all been waiting for so long and now we are really ready to play."

South Side proved that from the opening whistle Monday in a 3-0 win over Mepham in both teams' Nassau Conference A-I season-opener at the RVC Athletic Complex.

"We need to do something after school, we can’t just go home," defender Cristina LiCalzi said. "We need to release our stress with athletics."

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This season is clearly going to be different than previous years. The most noticeable difference is playing with a mask, but it doesn’t end there. Teams had only one week of official practice before competition. As opposed to training in the warmth of summer and the weather getting progressively colder, this season is the opposite. South Side typically holds preseason training activities, but that’s difficult to do with snow on the ground in February.

"In March, we don’t have that," LiCalzi said. "We had to just start. We didn’t know each other. We didn’t know how we played, so just getting in the groove with each other [was a challenge]."

South Side struck first with Emma Madden’s goal off a corner kick from Anna Pennecke with 5:29 remaining in the first half.

"I was like, ‘This has to go in because I really wanted a lead,' " Madden said. "It was just a great corner and I just kind of trapped it with my chest and lefty-kicked it and it’s my first [varsity] goal, so I was really excited."

Sweeney added the second goal with a strike from 15 yards out less than two minutes into the second half.

"That felt really good," Sweeney said. "It was great to get ahead and I knew that would definitely set the tone for the rest of the game, which it did."

Nora Basile added the final goal off an assist from Emma Hospodka with 13:52 left in the game. Avery Testa had 10 saves playing behind the starting backline of Sydney Rathjen, Maddy Wolfrom, Pennecke and LiCalzi.

"We’re so happy to be back together," Sweeney said. "This team is full of traditions, so we’re so glad to be singing all the songs and doing all the same traditions as all these girls have done for 20 years. We are really happy to be doing that again."