Any time a Long Island high school boys soccer team takes some time off from school in November and boards a coach bus to head upstate, it’s a great season.
And so, 2012 was just that for Mattituck (16-4-1). The defending Suffolk County League VII champion won its 15th sectional title and reached the New York State final four for at least the sixth time, according to coach Mat Litchhult. Mattituck’s wild ride came to an end with a 3-1 loss to Livonia in the state Class B semifinals. (Livonia was later declared a co-champion with Ichabod Crane after those teams played to a goalless draw in the final.) Livonia coach Ray Maxwell said Mattituck was “as good as we’ve seen.”
The memory of that magical playoff run by Mattituck lingers.
“I think that is a driving force for these guys,” Litchhult said of his players. They want to get back there.”
As Litchhult sees it, for all their youth, there is no reason why the Tuckers couldn’t mount a similar campaign this year. The talent is there, starting with Kaan Ilgin, a junior striker from Turkey who scored 13 goals and made the all-conference team last year. Another junior striker, Mario Arreola, was a 7-goal scorer. He was an all-league player along with goalkeeper Steve Ostrowski, who is going into his senior season.
Twin brothers James Hayes and Paul Hayes, both juniors, were starters last year along with junior outside back Walter Jacob. James Hayes plays in center midfield and Paul Hayes is a central defender.
Kevin Williams, a junior who will play center back, saw a lot of playing time and produced 5 goals.
Outside midfielder Oscar Puluc, center midfielder Oswaldo Aldaz and striker Joe Tardif also bring varsity experience.
New to the team are: defender Mike O’Rourke, midfielder Kevin Diffley, midfielder Erik Schwartz, midfielder Jack DiGregorio, goalkeeper Nick Vitolano, midfielder Matt Krauza, defender Andrew Cushman, goalkeeper Ben Knowles, defender Matt Carter, midfielder Ryan Foster, striker Brian Doherty, defender Dan Parks, midfielder John Batuello, defender Dan Fedun and defender Connor Almberg.
Twenty of the team’s 25 players are juniors, three are sophomores and two are seniors.
“For a young squad, we have a lot of experience,” Litchhult said. “Some of these juniors have been in two county championship games already.”
“I think they’re a motivated bunch,” he continued. “I think they know we have some talent.”
And depth, too. “I think we have some guys coming off the bench who could be starters on other teams,” said Litchhult.
Litchhult said he is not sure who the captain will be, and whether that will be determined for the entire season or on a game-by-game basis. “They’re not really a rah-rah-type of team,” he said. “They’re not really a lot of guys yelling and screaming.”
Then again, the Tuckers would be content to let their play do the talking for them.
“I think their potential is unlimited,” Litchhult said. “They can do whatever they want this year.”
One thing looks certain for this coming season: Southold (13-5) will not have to worry about Port Jefferson.
For the third year in a row, Southold’s season ended with a playoff loss to Port Jefferson in 2012. It was the second straight year in which that loss came in a Suffolk County Class C final. Port Jefferson was responsible for three of Southold’s five losses last year.
But Port Jefferson, which has won state championships the past two years, has been bumped up to Class B, is no longer in Southold’s league and not on Southold’s schedule this year. That means there are no Port Jefferson-Southold matchups, which have become notoriously physical and intense, in the works for 2013.
It could be seen as an opportunity for Southold to contend for League VIII and Suffolk Class C titles with the likes of Pierson/Bridgehampton and The Stony Brook School.
“I think we are contenders,” said Andrew Sadowski, who will enter his 19th season as Southold’s coach with a 221-101-16 (.654) career record. “If we continue to play hard and work hard, we should be right in the mix.”
The First Settlers will sorely miss Evan Miller, a prolific scorer who produced 30 goals in his senior season. That will mean a change in the balance of goal production.
“I think there’s going to be an even balance of goal scorers,” Sadowski said. “We’re going to need it from everybody.”
At the same time, he said, there is no need to be overly concerned about goal scoring. “There are several players who will score,” he said.
Senior midfielders Drew Sacher and Will Richter should be among them. Seven of the team’s eight returning players were starters last year, including junior midfielder Zach Ellis, junior defender Ryan DiGregorio, junior midfielder Shayne Johnson, senior midfielder/defender Brian Hallock and senior Kenji Fujita, who has moved from goalkeeper to the field as a midfielder or a forward. Michael Shade, a senior midfielder/defender, is the other returning player.
With Fujita’s move to the field, John Charles Funke, a junior who played for the junior varsity team last year, is the No. 1 goalkeeper. Also new to the team are: defender Kevin McGough, midfielder/defender Jose Membrano, forward Dean Albergo, forward/midfielder Joe Worysz, defender Jack Dunne and defender Chris Bucci.
Sadowski said several players can play multiple positions, so he is mixing and matching to see what works best. “I think collectively as an entire group, they’re settling into their roles,” he said.
“We’re getting there, I think,” he added. “We just have to get there by next Saturday” for the season-opening game at Hampton Bays.
A three-word sentence by Greenport/Shelter Island coach Chris Golden pretty much said it all: “We’re starting inexperience.”
He isn’t kidding or exaggerating, either.
Aside from a pair of three-year varsity players, seniors Austin Hooks and Ryan Weingart, the Porters (6-9-2) don’t have much in the way of veterans. Charlie Binder and Eddie Rogers, both senior midfielders, are back. Two juniors, goalkeeper Alex Perez and defender Nick Droskoski, played sparingly. Two sophomores, forward Bryon Rivas and defender Angel Colon, saw some time.
And that’s pretty much it. It adds up to the most inexperienced team Golden has had in his seven years as the Porters’ coach. About two-thirds of the players on the varsity and junior varsity teams combined are freshmen or sophomores.
“Long-term, it’s simple, to develop the players and give them the experience they need,” said Golden, whose career record with the Porters is 42-53-8 (.408).
This affords opportunities for defender Justin Bracken, midfielder Eduardo Sanchez, midfielder Chris Sponza and defender Ben Bracken (Justin’s cousin) to make their mark.
Golden said it is important for his players to be comfortable playing more than one position. “There’s going to be a lot of interchangeable parts,” he said. “These kids have to be knowledgeable and have the ability to play everywhere and anywhere.”
With Hooks moving out of goal, the goalkeeping job is being competed for by Perez and Richard Torres. How will the 6-foot-3 Hooks fare in the field?
“He’s going to have moments of brilliance,” Golden said, “and moments when you probably shake your head.”