Following a long-established tradition, on the first day of preseason practice Monday morning, the Southold High School boys varsity and junior varsity soccer teams began their journey into the fall season by walking in tandem, two by two, from the school toward the field.
They marched through a metal gate and over the new track before arriving at their new artificial turf field.
“Beautiful,” said junior forward Joe Silvestro.
“It’s beautiful, absolutely beautiful,” head coach Andrew Sadowski beamed. “It’s green, it’s flat. Comfortable.”
The First Settlers, who lost in the Suffolk County Class C final to long-time rival Pierson/Bridgehampton, 1-0, last year, hope to use the new field to their advantage and as they aim to advance beyond the county championship.
“It should because, ‘Hey, look at that, a brand new field; let’s show everyone how we do, how we play, show them how good we are, show them who’s boss pretty much,’ ” said junior center back Stephen Schill.
Since Southold hasn’t won a county crown since 2015, this is one hungry team.
“I’ve been looking forward to it every year I have been playing soccer,” Schill said. “I’ve got only two years of soccer left. In one or two of the years, I would love to [win] counties and go on, move forward.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Sadowski, who enters his 25th Southold season as the dean of all Suffolk boys soccer coaches, noted that many League VII teams play on grass fields. That will force his squad to reacclimate itself for road games. The Settlers have played on grass in the past.
“It’s nice to play on a flat surface,” he said. “Obviously, playing on a turf field, the ball moves quicker. It’s unforgiving. You make a mistake, you can’t blame the field. The quality of their touch on the ball is just going to have to continue to get better the more we play on it.
“The other thing is that most of our away games will be on grass fields, so we’re going to have to play that switch back and forth a little bit.”
A few signs on the fence at the entrance remind athletes that they may wear only molded cleats or any kind of athletic shoes, that sharp objects were forbidden as was food and sports drinks or liquids, other than water, among other rules.
Many players already were familiar with the new multi-purpose field, funded by a $9.7 million capital bond, that opened May 29. The field includes a flagpole, a scoreboard that still needs to be installed and stands on the east end. A huge red “S” is situated at midfield on the field, which has red, blue and white lines that differentiate markings for lacrosse, field hockey and soccer.
“It’s definitely different than grass because grass is a lot thicker,” Silvestro said. “So, it’s a lot getting used to the touch on the ball. It will go out a little bit further when you hit it and it will bounce more. We’ve been out here for at least two months. Since it has been put in we’ve been playing on it since the last day of school.”
Added Schill: “We’ve been playing through the summer just because it was a new turf field. I’m looking forward playing on it this year.”
The first practice went pretty much to plan, which included stretching exercises, a 1 1/2-mile run (six times around the track), drills and a scrimmage that stressed players’ possession skills as three, and not two, teams vied for the ball, with several water breaks on a cool August morning.
Several players did not show up for the morning session — there was another in the evening — which concerned Sadowski.
“We have quite a few kids who are going to play who aren’t here,” he said. “Some of them we knew that they were out of the country, visiting family, things like that. There are a couple who did not show up today and we’re not sure why. They played summer league. I’m just hoping they had to work this morning and they were afraid to tell us.”
Sadowski, who can be a demanding coach, saw some improvement as the first session went on, although he felt there still was a long way to go.
“We got better as the morning went along,” he said. “There’s a little bit more effort. Attention to detail still needs a lot to be improved. We’ll see. Definitely a work in progress.”
Photo caption: Junior center back Stephen Schill making a pass on Southold’s new artificial turf field Monday morning. (Credit: Garret Meade)