Early in the preseason, North Rockland’s first-year coach Chris Dwyer pulled senior goalkeeper Steven Hegner aside to check on his confidence level. The question he posed wasn’t meant to be taken literally, but rather to gauge the psyche of his most important player.
“He had lapses in the past, so I asked him if we should bring up our JV keeper,” Dwyer recalled from the first week of practice. “He said, ‘No way,’ and from then on, I never questioned him.”
Hegner had never been very outspoken, but Dwyer could sense his self-belief through the way that he shot down the notion of needing to be pushed. He quickly proved why on the field, as Hegner tied a school record with 13 shutouts and led North Rockland on a surprising run to the Class AA title game.
Hegner’s efforts earned him The Journal News Rockland Player of the Year honors.
“I knew we had a good team, and I was ready for the challenge,” Hegner said. “Everything fell into place and it worked out wonderfully.”
Dwyer stepped in to replace longtime coach Pete McGovern amidst plenty of uncertainty. After failing to make it out of the first round last season, the Red Raiders lost two of their top players to the U.S. Soccer Academy and two others to injury.
The results were shocking, as North Rockland cruised to a 15-1 regular season, often being content to sit on a 1-0 lead and let opponents take their best shots at Hegner.
“You can’t win 14 one-goal games without a goalie who is going to keep you in the game,” Dwyer said. “We probably could have lost half of those games if Steven didn’t come up and do something big. Everything he did ignited our defense.”
“Coach always said, ‘Get to halftime a goal up or even and we have a chance,’ ” Hegner said. “Our whole team played team defense, and then we would counter. We trusted our whole unit. Once we got one ball in the net, we knew we could get the win.”
Despite earning the second seed in the Class AA playoffs, questions remained about whether the Red Raiders’ dangerous style, which relied so heavily on Hegner and the defense, would translate to postseason success.
In the eyes of his teammates, Hegner answered those questions in a first-round win against Ketcham.
“He had a save on a free kick in the first half that was ridiculous,” senior Will Lopez said. “It was going upper 90, but he made the save. It was awesome. I knew from then on, he was going to step up in the postseason.”
North Rockland’s next two games would provide Hegner with even bigger tests, and he responded by posting consecutive shutouts in the quarterfinals and semis.
“In both of those games, Mamaroneck and Mahopac, I thought position-wise, they could have beaten us,” Dwyer said. “I thought to myself, ‘Steven is going to have to make some big saves for us to win.’ “
Hegner made 1-0 leads hold up in both of those games, with the Red Raiders losing to eventual state champ Arlington by one goal in the section final. It was the team’s first section finals appearance since 2003.
“There’s definitely pressure, but it propels you to be good,” Hegner said of playing in so many close games. “I had trust in my team and my defense, and we all did it together.”
Here is the rest of the Rockland All-County first team:
Alex Castillo, Pearl River: The all-section senior tallied nine goals and five assists despite being the focus of opposing defenses. One of the craftiest players in the section with a strong leg, Castillo scored more than 50 goals in his varsity career.
Cristian Diaz-Rosales, Ramapo: No player in the county scored more goals than the all-section senior, who finished with 14 and added 10 assists. With his speed and ball skills, Diaz-Rosales has been known as one of the most explosive scorers in the county for the past few seasons.
Nick Laurent, Clarkstown South: The all-section junior is considered to be one of the most talented strikers in the county. A gifted athlete with a tremendous work ethic, Laurent finished with six goals and two assists despite missing some time due to injury.
Anthony Quintana, Spring Valley: The all-section senior led the Tigers with seven goals and four assists in 13 games. He assisted on the winning goal when Spring Valley handed North Rockland its only regular-season loss on Oct. 3.
Anders Fleming, Nyack: The all-section senior was named league MVP after leading the Indians to a surprising league title. He finished with four goals and seven assists while being asked to defend the opposing team’s top midfielder.
Giovanni Galvano, Pearl River: The 2011 Rockland Player of the Year was one of two all-state selections from the county. He led the Pirates with 11 goals while adding four assists, but it’s his ball skills and field vision that set the senior apart.
Will Lopez, North Rockland: The all-section senior was the Red Raiders’ offensive catalyst, leading the county with 14 assists. His creativity led to the majority of North Rockland’s scoring chances during a tremendous 18-2 season.
Rafael Aguilar, North Rockland: The senior fullback was an all-section honorable mention selection after leading a stellar defensive unit for the Red Raiders. He also took most of North Rockland’s penalty kicks, chipping in five goals and three assists.
Chris Coughlin, Pearl River: The junior was an all-section honorable mention selection and is regarded as one of the top defenders in the county. He was often asked to guard the opponent’s top scorer, while also pushing up to contribute three goals.
Gabe Rivera, Nyack: The all-section senior was a physical force from his right fullback position, aggressively pursuing 50-50 balls. He was the leader of the Indians’ defense while scoring four goals of his own.
Coach of the Year
Hal Stone, Nyack: After winning only two games in 2011 and failing to qualify for sectionals, Stone led the Indians on a dramatic turnaround. Nyack went 11-6-1, beating Pearl River twice to claim an unexpected league title and went onto upset fifth-seeded Beacon in the first round of the Class A playoffs.
GK – Karl Jamiolkowski, Sr., Albertus Magnus
F – Matt Dale, Sr., Albertus Magnus
F – Wendy Jean, Sr., Nyack
F – Hunter Quilty, Sr., Clarkstown South
MF – Mike Dolce, Sr., Suffern
MF – Nathan Frigge, Sr., Suffern
MF – Karlyl Simon, Sr., Spring Valley
D – Chris Aherne, Jr., North Rockland
D – Ben Dirocco, Sr., Nyack
D – Tim Ehardt, Sr., Tappan Zee
D – Dave Wolfson, Sr., Suffern
Ronnie Crover, Sr., North Rockland; Chris Filor, Sr., North Rockland; Austin Maggiolo, Sr., Pearl River; Rooben Michel, Jr., Spring Valley; Matt Neroda, Jr., Pearl River; Christian Obernesser, Sr., Clarkstown North; Scott Schwartz, Jr., Suffern; Bradley Studnitzer, Sr., Clarkstown South; Mike Sullivan, Jr., Nyack; Mike Trinkoff, Sr., Tappan Zee; Jorge Vasquez, Sr., Spring Valley