By Owen O'Brien

Meet the players who earned our top honors after the fall 2020 season that was played in the spring of 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Newsday Player of the Year: Avani Brandt, Syosset, M, Sr.

Syosset girls soccer coach Joe Marchetta knew he had something special in Avani Brandt long before she stepped foot on a varsity soccer field.

And it only took two games for Brandt to cement that on the pitch.

Marchetta remembers seeing Brandt corral up a loose ball 25 yards out and strike a goal into the far corner of the net. It was Brandt’s first varsity goal. But also a sign of things to come.

"You could tell even before that game she was going to be a big-time player," Marchetta said. "In practice, she was already showing it and she just confirmed it in that play."

Brandt was only a freshman when she scored that goal. Fast forward and Brandt became a pivotal piece to Syosset winning two Nassau Class AA championships over three years. The Stanford-bound senior had a defining moment in her final game for Syosset with both goals in a 2-0 victory over Massapequa in the Nassau Class AA final.

"Avani was not going to let anything stop her in that game," Marchetta said. "Not anything. Whether it be tired legs, she wasn’t going to let anything stop her. It was beyond important for her."

Brandt cemented her Syosset legacy in that championship final and finished her senior season with 13 goals and five assists for the Nassau Class AA champions en route to being named Newsday’s girls soccer player of the year.

"She’s so skillful with the ball at her feet and on top of that, she’s just amazingly athletic," Marchetta said. "She uses her body so well to fend off pressure and to win the ball as well and I’d argue you’d be hard pressed to find a player that can beat her stride by stride."

Brandt largely played midfield her first two seasons before taking over a prominent goal-scoring role as a junior and senior. She will play in the High School All-American Game in late May, before playing at Stanford, which won the 2019 national championship. She was recruited as center back for Stanford, but Marchetta believes her offensive presence will help Brandt learn what to look for from opposing goal scorers.

"A program like Stanford isn’t going to just recruit any player," Marchetta said. "So that speaks to Avani as a player."

Apicella had 16 goals and three assists for the Suffolk Class AA co-champions. The Adelphi commit is a strong, physical player who isn’t afraid to attack a ball as a striker. She scored in nine of 13 games this year.

Hailey Hnis, MacArthur, F, Jr.

The Albany commit had 23 goals for a 13-win MacArthur team. She constantly drew double teams and fought through defensive gameplans to become one of Nassau’s most feared scoring threats.

Leah Iglesias, Carle Place, F, Sr.

Iglesias will take the field for Hofstra next fall after finishing with the second-most goals scored in Nassau girls soccer history (110). The four-year varsity starter had 27 goals and eight assists as a senior.

Cristina LiCalzi, South Side, D, Jr.

Defense was a pivotal part of South Side’s Nassau Class A championship season, and LiCalzi was always at the forefront. The three-year starter is a versatile player and controlled the game from the backline, including limiting scoring chances against a potent MacArthur offense in a 2-0 county final.

Madison Micheletti, Islip, M, Jr.

The four-year varsity starter controlled all aspects of the game for the Suffolk Class A champions. She had 15 goals and six assists this spring, while either scoring or assisting on every goal in the playoff although being game-planned against. She is committed to Old Dominion.

Nicolette Pasquarella, Connetquot, GK, Sr.

The athletic goalkeeper only allowed four goals this season and will play for Stony Brook next fall. Pasquarella has trained with professional clubs in England and continues to prove herself as a standout goalkeeper.

Gianna Paul, Whitman, F, Jr.

The Alabama commit had 12 goals and two assists in eight games this year and has a proven record with her breakaway speed. Paul also won the 300-meter dash state championship in 2020.

Kaylin Ricci, Massapequa, D, Sr.

The lockdown defender never shies away from a tough assignment on the defensive end. The Buffalo commit also has the skill and speed to attack on the offensive end and finished with five goals and five assists for a 13-1 Massapequa team.

Lauryn Schmidt, West Islip, M, Sr.

The four-year varsity starter was always a go-to player in the middle of the field. Schmidt controlled the pace of play for West Islip (11-3) this year. The Marist commit had 10 goals and two assists with her incredible touch of the ball and field sense.

Mackenzie Stickelman, Glenn, M/F, Jr.

The Boston University commit had 16 goals and four assists in 10 games this year and led Glenn to its first league title since 2008. She was constantly marked by multiple defenders. Stickelman started for Glenn since the ninth grade.

Newsday Coach of the Year: Jenn Abgarian, South Side

She led South Side to its first county title since 2014, defeating previous undefeated MacArthur, 2-0, in the Nassau Class A final.

Second team

Alyssa Abramson, Patchogue-Medford, D/F, Jr.

Ashley Borriello, Shoreham-Wading River, F, Sr.

Abigail Carroll, Sachem East, F, Sr.

Katie Cosenza, Ward Melville, M, Sr.

Madison Hnis, MacArthur, D, Jr.

Emma Hospodka, South Side, M, Jr.

Lia Howard, Massapequa, F, Jr.

Fiona Kilian, MacArthur, M, Jr.

Devin Lillis, Sayville, D, Jr.

Abigail Meneses, Commack, M, Sr.

Riley Miller, Syosset, M/D, Jr.

Samantha Muller, North Babylon, F, Sr.

Elyse Munoz, Ward Melville, GK, Soph.

Olivia Pearse, Seaford, M, Sr.

Samiya Reid, Floral Park, F, Jr.

Samantha Sattanino, Hauppauge, M, Sr.

Gianna Savella, Massapequa, M/F, Jr.

Laney Schmitz, Connetquot, M, Jr.

Athina Sofroniou, Half Hollow Hills East, M, Sr.

Erin Sutter, Smithtown East, M, Sr.