Perhaps under another system or at another time, freshmen Bryce Grathwohl and James Jacobs would have been bypassed and left sitting on the bench this season. But the Mattituck High School boys soccer team lost an astounding 19 seniors from last year’s New York State Class B champion squad. That presented opportunities for younger players like Grathwohl and Jacobs.
Mattituck’s new coach, Will Hayes, believes in meritocracy.
“My philosophy is if you’re good enough, you’re old enough,” he said. “I really don’t care. Age is just a number. … Realistically, if you have the talent, you’re going to get dropped in the deep end and we’re going to see how you perform.”
So far, Grathwohl, a central defender, and Jacobs, a goalkeeper, have performed admirably for the Tuckers. The two are also friends and teammates on a club team, North Fork United.
Grathwohl played for Mattituck’s junior varsity team last year as an eighth grader. Because of a family vacation, he missed preseason training with the Tuckers this summer. He played two games with the junior varsity team before being integrated into the varsity starting lineup Sept. 19 against Greenport. Since then he has been a fixture, giving the Tuckers quality minutes with his tackling and organizational skills.
“He’s been excellent for us,” Hayes said. “It’s ironic to say this, but as a ninth grader he’s our most experienced center back. The level he plays at club ball for his club team is very high and the level of play there that he sees in his opponents forces him to up his game, and he’s done that.”
Grathwohl can take satisfaction in a well-timed tackle or a nice clearance. He said he doesn’t feel the urge to score goals, but that surely doesn’t mean he can’t. He has even shown scoring ability, something defenders aren’t usually known for. On Thursday he enjoyed the first multiple-goal game of his young career, scoring twice from two shots in a 3-0 win over visiting Babylon. That gave him three strikes for the season.
“He’s amazing,” said sophomore midfielder Carlos Campos.
Grathwohl said: “I didn’t know if I was going to start this year, but I knew I was going to be a big factor in this year. Since 19 seniors graduated last year, I knew this was going to be somewhat of a rebuilding year, but we have a chance to do something this year.”
Jacobs played junior varsity soccer last year and was tapped to be the understudy in goal to junior Kyle Makely this year. But Makely moved out of the school district over the summer, leaving a position that Jacobs has pulled in like a corner kick. Jacobs has started the Tuckers’ first nine games, posted three shutouts, and has played more like a senior than a freshman.
“We had some time to coach up James and the growth that he has made from the beginning of the summer to where he is now, basically dominating the inside of the box, is nothing short of earth-shattering,” Hayes said. “He looked like a boy when he first got dropped in the varsity crosshairs in the beginning of the summer league, and he looks like a man out there now.”
As a young goalkeeper, whose job it is to direct the defense, Jacobs has acknowledged that yelling out instructions to older teammates took some getting used to. “I don’t think it was such a huge problem, but it definitely was,” he said. “It was definitely there.”
The Tuckers are quite young. Hayes pointed out that at various times during Thursday’s game his team had three freshmen and four sophomores on the field.
The Tuckers have veterans like seniors Joe Tardif, Dan Fedun and John Batuello, “but at the same time, it’s a light sprinkling throughout the field,” Hayes said, “and for us to be able to count on these younger players and develop them for the program … is just really wonderful to have.”
Photo Caption: Bryce Grathwohl, a freshman central defender, played two junior varsity games this year before being integrated into the varsity starting 11. (Credit: Garret Meade)