North Fork high school soccer will have a different look and feel this fall.
Two girls programs — Southold/Greenport and Mattituck — have merged due to declining participation and population.
Also, a new divisional alignment has endangered one of Long Island’s greatest soccer rivalries as the Mattituck and Center Moriches boys teams will compete in separate leagues for the first time.
The girls merger will allow varsity teams to have full rosters and younger athletes to develop at their proper pace.
“Numbers were getting so tight, we were forcing kids who were not at the appropriate skill level to come up to the varsity level,” Southold athletic director Steve Flanagan said. “When it’s not the appropriate skill, it’s not really fun anymore. Or, they were sitting behind a girl who was very experienced and did not get that much playing time. So, it’s really important to have that appropriate level for JV and varsity. That with, dwindling numbers through the years, the writing was on the wall.”
Both programs haven’t had a JV team in a few years.
So, Greenport AD Chris Golden, Mattituck AD Gregg Wormuth and Flanagan worked out a plan.
“It’s a positive for everyone involved. It allows all three schools to field a JV team, which is critical,” said Golden, who will coach the team. “The driving force is to put players where they should be developmentally.
“From an athletic director’s standpoint, we’re going to provide opportunities. From a coaching standpoint, it’s going to provide depth at the varsity level. Injuries and nicks are all part of that. Instead of having a team of 14 or 15, you’ll be able to have a solid team of 18 players at both levels. From both perspectives, I couldn’t be happier.”
All three schools will host matches, allowing each to hold homecoming games and senior days.
Golden guided Southold/Greenport to the state Class C semifinals last year. It will compete in Class B this fall.
“We know Chris Golden with the girls he has is going to do great things,” Flanagan said.
The new team will boast two of the county’s best girls players — Southold’s Jillian Golden (33 goals, 16 assists) and Mattituck’s Claire Gatz (14 goals, 11 assists).
Both programs have enjoyed success. Last year Southold/Greenport (14-5) reached the state semifinals for the first time. The Tuckers, who captured the 2005 state crown and won 14 county titles since 1988, lost in the county Class B final last season.
The schools have worked together before, deploying combined teams in other sports.
In boys soccer, Mattituck will be among three Class B teams in League VII — Babylon and Port Jefferson are the others — along with Southold, Greenport and Pierson/Bridgehampton (all Class C) and Smithtown Christian (Class D).
Center Moriches, the defending state Class B champion, will compete in League VI with four Class A teams — Shoreham-Wading River, Mount Sinai, Bayport-Blue Point and Elwood/John Glenn — as well as two Class B sides — Southampton and Hampton Bays.
So, the coaches have scheduled a non-league game at Center Moriches on Sept. 17. They also can meet in the playoffs.
“Playing Center Moriches is a must and is the best barometer for our progress from last year to this year,” Mattituck coach Will Hayes said. “Preserving the rivalry is nice, too, given the history, though it will be nice to renew our old rivalry with Southold on a twice-yearly basis.”
The rivalry dates back to 1936, when Mattituck defeated Center Moriches for the county championship, 1-0.
Center Moriches coach Chris O’Brien knows something about North Fork soccer rivalries as a Southold High School player in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He called Center Moriches-Mattituck “one of the great rivalries in Long Island high school sports.”
“I was disappointed to see that we weren’t in the same league,” he added. “It’s part of history. Sort of not having the Yankees and the Red Sox no longer in the same league.
“Rivalries are a big part of the high school experience. Not having Mattituck and Center Moriches in the same league is something that the present teams won’t get to experience.”
Hayes noted there was a bit of a silver lining to the new set-up.
“Reaction to the separate leagues was surprise at first, though after some thought it’s what makes the most sense,” he said. “It’s nice to have six B schools instead of the three we’ve had for the past two years.”
Mattituck could drop to Class C in a few years, due to declining enrollment, Hayes said.
Photo caption: Southold/Greenport, which reached the state semifinals for the first time last year, will merge with Mattituck for this coming season. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk, file)