As they jogged to midfield midway through practice on Monday, coach Justin Wiesenthal called out to his Hawks.
“This is only Day One,” he shouted. “I plan on playing all the way to November!”
For the Rhinebeck High School boys soccer team, the statement was more than a hollow motivational tool common for the first day of fall practice; it was a declaration.
Monday marked the beginning of what could be an extended season for the Hawks, who reached the Class C regional finals for the first time in program history a year ago, and return many key contributors for 2013.
“That was special, but the guys also know that does not happen all the time,” Wiesenthal said. “We can’t expect it to happen this year. We’re certainly going to work for it, and if it happens, great. But it is something special, and there’s a reason why tons of teams don’t get to experience it.”
And so, the Hawks awoke on Monday morning. Around 40 of them, according to Wiesenthal, were on the field at 8 a.m. for a practice filled with conditioning, drills and some five-on-five scrimmaging.
“It was rough,” senior Seth McClenahan said. “It was fun, we all enjoyed it, but definitely after a long summer of sitting on the couch, eating food and not always getting out a whole lot, first day, first week, first week-and-a-half is definitely a little tough.”
Two-and-a-half hours later, though, the team’s enthusiasm remained.
“I was really excited,” senior Nick Hoynes said. “As soon as I hopped out of bed, I feel like everyone’s really excited to get back on the field. After that loss last year in the regional finals, we’re all hungry to get back there.”
A year ago, Rhinebeck defeated S.S. Seward for the Section 9 title and Solomon Schechter in the regional semifinals, before losing 2-1 to Port Jefferson. Underclassmen scored every goal in the three games, including three from McClenahan in the championship game.
At least two hurdles stand in the Hawks’ way before they can return to November soccer. For one, the team moved up to Class B this year, which Wiesenthal said, “will certainly be a more intense challenge for us.”
The team also is without its goalie from a year ago, 2013 graduate Will Burns.
Several Hawks are competing for the job, including senior Jackson Pavlakis, who started five games last year when Burns was out with a concussion.
“I think we have a choice of three really good players,” Wiesenthal said. “We’ll kind of see what happens. Luckily we don’t have to make a decision right now. We have a few scrimmages coming up next week. We’ll see how they fare and we’ll go with who helps us the most.”
As for returning to, or possibly surpassing, the regional finals this year, the Hawks were taking a game-by-game approach on opening day.
“We don’t want to set the standards too high, but I think anything is a disappointment if you don’t come back with at least a section title,” Pavlakis said. “That’s our goal for right now, we want to win (the Mid-Hudson Athletic League title) and we want to win sections. Everyone wants to go as far as they can, but I don’t want to talk about anything like that right now.”
“We want to have some fun,” Wiesenthal said. “We can be successful in a lot of different ways, but coming out after school, for me as a teacher and I know for them as students, we want to have a little fun. We did it last year and we’re hoping to pick up where we left off.”