The Lady Riders proved to be the best women’s club soccer in the land in 1995. (Photo courtesy of Kim Wyant) 

Twenty-five years ago last month, the Long Island Lady Riders captured the first of their two national championships (they also won in 1997). This is editor Michael Lewis’ story of their run to the title in Soccer New York. It is used with permission.

By Michael Lewis

CINCINNATI – The key to the Long Island Lady Riders is their depth. If one player doesn’t get you, another will.

That was the case in as the Lady Riders seemed to have another hero in each of their victories at the U.S. Women’s Interregional Soccer League championship.

There was goalkeeper Kim Wyant, midfielders Dina Grossman and Shannon Sepe and forward Gina Vassallo-Tucker, who stood out as the Lady Riders captured the league title on Aug. 13, 1995 behind a 2-0 victory over the Southern California Nightmares.

“Finally, a championship,” said Vassallo-Tucker, who scored two goals in the final and was named tournament MVP> “it’s been a long time coming…. It’s awesome.”

She got no arguments from her teammates or coach.

“This means everything to us,” said Kim Conway, selected as the top defender of the tournament. “We have put our hearts and soul into this the last five months. We wanted this championship so bad we practiced during the winter.

“We wanted to do this for Long Island soccer.”

Lady Riders coach Peter Collins, who directed the team to the Eastern Division title and eventually a 12-1 record, agreed. “It was a long struggle, but it was worth it,” he said. “We had a lot of problems throughout the year to get the right chemistry together.

“We don’t have nay superstars. If we work together, nobody will beat us, or we’ll give everyone a very tough game.”

Slowly, but surely, the Lady Riders got tougher game by game at Deer Park High School in suburban Cincinnati.

“There was no better way than this to end the season,” said Collins, voted the USWISL’s coach of the year.

While the Lady Riders weren’t dominating in their three games, they certainly got the job done when they had to:

* Only 18 seconds after she entered the match, Dina Grossman scored in a scramble to give the Lauder Riders a 1-0 victory over the Cincinnati Leopards on Aug. 11.

“Christine [Ho] headed the ball,” Grossman said. “It landed right in front of me.”

Collins expected better from his team.

“I’m very happy we were able to win,” he said. “I’m very frustrated with our players. At the beginning of the game, we pushed the ball around, which is our game. We were out of sync today.”

* Wyant demonstrated why she was recalled to the national camp and the top goalkeeper in the league with a sterling effort. She made eight saves and saved the Lady Riders’ necks in a 1-0 win over the Texas Lightning Aug. 12. Tis time the Lady Riders scored a bit earlier – 90 seconds into injury time in the opening half as Sepe converted a Diana Galletta pass.

But it was Wyant’s show.

“She played awesome today,” Collins said. “It was the best game she played for us. She saved us.”

Still, Collins wasn’t satisfied. “We’re going to have to pick up our game,” he said. “We know what Southern California can do. If we play the way we played today, we will not be successful.”

The Lady Riders were successful as Vassallo-Tucker struck twice and Wyant again stood out in goal.

Vassallo-Tucker, who was given an invitation to national team came because of her performance, gave Long Island all the scoring it needed at 39:07. Ho blasted a 33-yard shot that hit the crossbar. Vassallo-Tucker put in the rebound.

While going for a long punt by Wyant at 69:50, Vassallo Tucker collided with Southern California defender Susan Spencer at the top right of the penalty area with goalkeeper Kelly Odell out of the net. As the ball slowly rolled toward the unattended goal, Vassallo-Tucker got up, outraced her foes to the ball, which she tapped into the net.

“I never have seen anyone come through and score a goal like that,” Collins said. “It was sherry determination and skill. She put the ball into the net before anyone knew what was going on. That broke their backs.

And gave the Lady Riders the title.

Here are some related stories:

THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON: Wyant on that 1995 Riders team


GETTING THE SPOILS: Lady Riders brought home a lot of hardware in ’95


TRAVELING GOALKEEPER: When Wyant went to great lengths to win