The Mattituck High School boys soccer team defines the phrase “new look.”
Gone are most of the talented seniors who were the backbone of the school’s New York State Class B state champions (19-2). That included the New York State player of the year, two all-state selections and a Suffolk County pick. Gone also is Mat Litchhult, who decided to retire to be closer to his family.
In their place is a young, energetic group of players who plan to prove people wrong and the former assistant coach now running the show and who is considered by many players to be a “soccer guru.”
“This is a team that nobody expects to be any good,” the new coach, Will Hayes, said. “We’re better off than most people think. The reports of our demise [are] greatly exaggerated.”
Hayes is buoyed by the young talent he has seen in training camp.
“We have players that people didn’t get to see because we had players playing in front of them,” he said, adding that seven of his 11 projected starters played in either the state semifinal or championship game last year. “These boys understand the kind of hard work they need to be champions. We’re not going to go gently into the night. We’re not going to relinquish the crown without a fight.”
Gunning for a second successive state championship might be too high a mountain to climb, but securing a sixth Suffolk Class B crown certainly isn’t.
“These boys are going to get to the county final. Then we’ll roll the dice,” Hayes said. “No one is more ready for the fight than these kids.”
Three senior co-captains will lead the Tuckers — defender Danny Fedun, midfielder John Batuello and speedy forward Joe Tardif. Fedun and Tardif also played for Mattituck’s state championship baseball team.
Hayes plans to pair Tardif at striker along with Axel Rodriguez Canel, who scored off the bench in the state semifinal. On a championship side overloaded with midfielders, Hayes said that Batuello was “another violin in the symphony. This year he’s chair number one.”
Fedun, who can play at right back, right wing, central midfielder and sweeper, will start at center back. “He has been asked to take over some really big shoes — Paul Hayes,” Will Hayes said of the graduated, all-state selection. “His work ethnic, communication and presence on the team is really huge.”
Chris Waggoner, a junior who can play forward or attacking midfielder, missed last season with a broken wrist. “When he played [in the summer league] we scored goals and won games,” said Will Hayes.
In a bold move and a break with Tuckers tradition in going with inexperienced varsity hands in goal, Will Hayes tabbed 5-foot-11 freshman James Jacobs as his goalkeeper.
“He’s built like a man,” Will Hayes said. “He has the knowledge and the ability. He has to acclimate himself to older players. I’m confident James is up to the challenge. He’s going to be a very, very good goalkeeper.”
Every year Southold’s opponents know that the First Settlers will be good, they just don’t know how good they will be.
Last year the First Settlers (12-6) were a couple of penalty-kick conversions away from reaching the state Class C semifinals. Even with several key players from the Long Island championship team graduated, coach Andrew Sadowski knows that his side will be in the mix somewhere.
“We’ll challenge for the county championship,” he said before warning against any complacency. “You can’t take it for granted.”
Entering his 23rd year as Southold’s coach, Sadowski (245-101-20) certainly doesn’t. He demands a lot of his players, making them realize that the sweat they produce during the waning weeks of the summer will mean something when the weather turns cold in October and November. It usually has paid off.
“They understand their hard work will pay off in the end,” he said. “They trust my trusted methods.”
Five returning senior starters already are familiar with Sadowski’s methods and they will form the nucleus of what is expected to be another tough side.
They are defenders Alex Lincoln and Noah Mina and midfielders Walker Sutton, Peter Fouchet and Joey Worysz. They will be joined by another senior, defender Aidan Walker, the younger brother of former Southold basketball standout Liam Walker.
Senior defender Josh Kettenbeil, a reserve last year, is in the mix for a starting role as is sophomore midfielder/forward Edwin Martinez.
One player the First Settlers won’t have right off the bat is junior Michael Christman, who has attended every practice while recovering from an injury.
Sadowski has been pleasantly surprised with the development of his younger players who are “catching onto our system.”
The sooner they do, the better off Southold will be in League VIII.
“We really need the younger players to really step up and work hard to get their confidence raised to adjust to the speed of the games,” Sadowski said. “Moving from JV to the varsity level is a big adjustment. I’m confident of them accepting the challenge.”
Greenport coach Chris Golden did not return phone calls prior to the deadline. The Porters went 2-14 last season.
Photo Caption: Mattituck players celebrate a playoff win over Rye Neck on their way to winning the New York State Class B championship. (Credit: Garret Meade, file)