If the Southold High School boys soccer team sounds like a team on a mission, that may be because it is. And if that mission should involve getting another shot at playing Port Jefferson for the Suffolk County Class C championship, well, so much the better.
“I think our team mission is to play to our potential,” said coach Andrew Sadowski.
Call it Mission Possible. Not easy, mind you, but possible.
Sadowski may be asking for a lot from his players, but no more than what they are capable of producing. He felt that the First Settlers came up short of reaching their potential in the playoffs last fall when their season came to an end with a 3-0 loss in the county final to their League VIII rival, Port Jefferson. It was part of a succession of titles for what some — Sadowski included — considered the best Port Jefferson team they had ever seen. After securing league, county, Long Island and regional titles, Port Jefferson went on to garner the first state championship in team history.
But it was in the disappointment of that loss to the Royals in the county final at Diamond in the Pines in Coram where the seeds may have been sown for the determination that the First Settlers are bringing to the 2012 season.
Southold’s standout senior midfielder, Evan Miller, sees evidence of a new attitude in the form of more commitment from his teammates.
“Everyone’s more focused,” the all-state player said. “Everyone has the goal of having a winning season. Everybody here has that one goal.” He added, “The attitude is the best that I ever have experienced at Southold.”
Miller, fellow senior Sean O’Donnell, an all-conference midfielder, and all-league junior midfielder Will Richter head a cast of 13 returning players. They are among seven returning starters along with senior defender Rob Melley, junior goalkeeper Kenji Fujita, junior midfielder Drew Sacher and junior midfielder Brian Hallock. Plus, Southold is benefitting from the surprise addition of Bereket Watts. The sophomore midfielder, who had played the last three years for Bishop McGann-Mercy, is already heading into his fourth varsity season.
“Practice has been smooth,” Miller said after Tuesday morning’s session, the third practice of the preseason. “We’re getting better day by day. You can already see improvements in specific people.”
Sadowski said the team is in a good situation, “mostly because of the mind-set of the returning players.” He continued: “I think we have good skill with the ball at our feet. We have some good soccer game awareness, good soccer sense. So, we have to use all that to our advantage.”
A big advantage for the First Settlers is the presence of Miller, a four-year varsity veteran with a smooth style and panache. Miller missed a number of summer league games while he played for his club team, but in an odd way, that may have been good for the First Settlers. They were forced to find their own way and play without him.
“They know that he’s just a piece. They can make him look good, and he can make them look good,” Sadowski said. “Evan’s always going to come to play. The big thing is that the team doesn’t look to him to do everything. Sure, he’s going to stand out, he’s going to do his part, but everyone needs to be comfortable within themselves and play their part, and I think we’re there. I think we had a good stretch in the summer league. We learned a lot about each other.”
The First Settlers will learn even more about themselves when they face Port Jefferson again, at least twice during the regular season and perhaps once again in the playoffs. “They’re still the team to beat because they didn’t graduate anyone,” said Sadowski.
If Southold’s mission sends it on a collision course with Port Jefferson again, so be it.
“If we play the best that we can,” O’Donnell said, “no matter what happens, we can always be satisfied and say that we played as hard as we can and did what we wanted to do.”