Reaching a regional final — the last step on the road to the state final four — and then losing has to be crushing. Falling one win shy of a place in the state semifinals must be heart-breaking. And when that loss comes on penalty kicks, the sting must be even more piercing, one would think, right?
Well, maybe not exactly.
The Mattituck Tuckers found themselves in that situation last year when they were edged by the John S. Burke Catholic Eagles, 7-6, in penalties after 110 minutes of scoreless soccer in the Southeast Region Class B final. It was a cruel way for the Tuckers (16-3-1) to see their dream of returning to the final four for the second time in four years extinguished.
“It definitely was a little tough to deal with, but that game we played [against] Burke Catholic was such a tough game, two teams that were equally matched,” Mattituck Coach Mat Litchhult said. “It was exciting soccer, 0-0. It was a great match. I think it was agonizingly tough, but in the end it was kind of easy to get over because I knew there really was nothing else the team could have done.”
The Tuckers had given their all, and that is what Litchhult is asking of them again in 2011. As well as the Tuckers did last season, they have to move on and pursue new challenges.
“They can’t live on last year’s accomplishments,” Litchhult said. “They have to find their own identity, find their own motivation.”
The Tuckers certainly have no shortage of bodies. About 56 players came out for tryouts, and Litchhult kept 29 players on the varsity team. Litchhult, who was a former star player for the Tuckers himself, said he cannot recall Mattituck ever carrying that many players before.
Among the more prominent of them is an all-league player, senior outside midfielder/striker Shawn Smiley. The Tuckers also have junior center midfielder David Burkhardt, senior midfielder/striker Christian Tettelbach, senior defender Brenden Andersen and senior defender Richie Koch. They were all starters last year.
Additional varsity experience is provided by outside midfielder Kieran Nish, forward Mynor Javier, defender Peter Ostrowski, defender Ryan Finger, outside midfielder Jack Baglivi and goalkeeper Austin Scoggin. They are all seniors except for Finger, a junior.
The others who have places on the roster are: striker Stephen Urwand, midfielder Evan Neighley, midfielder Andrew Hudson, defender Richard Smith, striker Christopher Baglivi, midfielder Nicholas Sisino, midfielder Emre Ilgin, defender Doug Beebe, striker Kevin Izzo, defender Tyler Connell, defender Dan Falice, defender Connor Stumpf and goalkeeper Connor Egan.
Five freshmen will bounce back and forth between the varsity and junior varsity teams: midfielder James Hayes and defender Paul Hayes, who are identical twins, as well as striker Mario Arreola, striker/outside midfielder Kaan Ilgin and striker Kevin Williams.
That kind of depth helps absorb the loss of 15 seniors from last season, but that doesn’t mean the Tuckers don’t have work to do.
“We need to pick ourselves up,” said Litchhult, who carried a 120-34-12 (.723) record into his 10th year coaching the team. “We expect to compete for the league title and we expect to compete for the county title, but we have a lot of maturing and growing to do between now and then.”
Litchhult said his biggest concern is scoring. “I feel like we’re putting maybe too much pressure on ourselves and I think once we break that ice, hopefully the goals will come in bunches,” he said.
This season will be a good one, Litchhult said, if his players are able to do what last season’s players did.
He said: “They at least walked off the field and said: ‘We gave it our all. We tried our best. That was our legacy,’ and I want that to be their legacy.”
The Southold First Settlers (9-6-2) didn’t have a bad season last year, but Coach Andrew Sadowski sensed that something was missing.
Southold finished in fourth place in League VIII and lost to the Port Jefferson Royals in a Suffolk County Class C semifinal. The First Settlers ended the season with a loss, a tie and another loss. “They just went flat,” said Sadowski.
“I haven’t had a team finish fourth in a lo-o-o-ng time,” he continued. “That’s part of the issue with the motivation factor. I think this group understands that we don’t just walk on the field and win. They experienced a group of teammates last year who kind of just felt, ‘O.K., we’re Southold; we’re going to win,’ and, no, we’re not. The name doesn’t work. There’s a reason we have a name, and it’s because of all the work other teams before you have put in. Now it’s your turn.”
This year’s First Settlers have no shortage of motivation. “The returning players, they have no interest in last year’s season because they knew that they didn’t work to their potential,” said Sadowski.
The team is captained by Evan Miller, an all-conference junior midfielder who scored five goals last season, as well as senior defender Brian Cassidy and senior midfielder Christian Fouchet.
Miller looks like an all-conference player, Sadowski said. “He loves the game, and his practice effort, his game effort shows that he loves the game, and he wants to be better.”
Among the team’s nine returning players are junior goalkeeper Preston Jolliver, junior defender Benjamin Glew, junior midfielder Sean O’Donnell, sophomore forward Drew Sacher and sophomore midfielder Brian Hallock. They all had starting roles last season. Muhammet Ilgin, a junior forward, is another returner.
They are joined by forward Winston Wilcenski, defender Sam Kortchmar, midfielder Will Fujita, defender Alex Sinclair, defender Rob Melly, midfielder Cole Hiney and midfielder Will Richter.
“I think our skill level has improved this year, and certainly our work rate is better,” said Sadowski.
Sadowski brought a 199-89-14 (.659) career record into his 17th year as Southold’s coach. He ranks fifth in wins among active Suffolk coaches. How does he feel about career win No. 200?
“I don’t really try and think about it,” he said. “It’s important, I guess, just the fact that I love doing this. I want to be involved in the game, and just the wins are showing up, but I’ve told the boys, ‘Can we just get it early so we can get on with our season so nobody else asks me about it?’ ”
“I can’t really focus on one game because, quite honestly, if I go back and evaluate the past 17 seasons, how many games we could have, should have, didn’t win, 200 would have been over with,” he continued. “We would have had this conversation about this a long time ago.”
The 2-14 record doesn’t lie. The Greenport/Shelter Island Porters won two games and lost 14 last season. But what that record doesn’t say is how competitive they were in many of those losses. Not only did the Porters lose 10 of those games by one goal, but at least four of those one-goal affairs were decided in the final 10 minutes, said Coach Chris Golden.
“I think we waned with our intensity level,” Golden said. “When we did lapse, unfortunately, the ball ended up in the back of the net.”
This year the Porters are focusing on reversing that. “Instead of those one-goal losses, I’d like to see more of those in the left side of the column,” said Golden.
Among the talents the Porters can turn to are Camilo Torres, an all-conference senior forward with a scoring touch, and Jimmy Read, an all-league defensive midfielder. Torres is a four-year varsity starter.
Mike Reed, a senior in his fourth year with the team, has been moved from defender to goalkeeper. In addition, senior outside midfielder/forward Sean Charters, senior defender Julio Amaya, senior midfielder Edwin Arias, junior center midfielder Erick Ramirez, junior defender Matt Dibble and junior central defender Jesus Duran are also returning starters.
Also back are outside midfielder Andrew Semon, midfielder/forward Alex Graffagnino and outside midfielder Ryan Weingart.
Billy Doucett, a forward, and Mitchell Clark, an outside midfielder, are new to the team.
Read, Graffagnino and Clark are Shelter Island’s representatives on the squad.
Golden, who takes a 29-36-4 (.420) record into his fifth year with the team, said intensity is the key.
“They’re very coachable and they’re willing to work to improve, and they understand the area they need to improve in, and that’s the intensity they have to bring with them on the field the whole time, 80 minutes,” he said. “Each player on that field has to be willing to give 100 percent for every minute that match is in play.”