Three of the four Section 1 champions will be in action on Wednesday for the regional semifinals. New Rochelle (Class AA) and Somers (Class A) will be playing at Lakeland High, while Hastings (Class B) will make the trip up to Middletown High, the same site which will host the state final four next weekend. North Salem (Class C) was the only local team to receive a bye into the regional finals this year, which will be played on Saturday at Byram Hills High against Section 8 champ SS Seward.
To get you set for the action, I’ve done some research on the opponents of the Section 1 champs. For the most part, I like the chances of the local teams to advance, but none of these games look like a cakewalk. They’ll have to earn it.
Class AA regional semifinal
New Rochelle (10-4-4) vs. Section 4’s Ithaca (12-2-3)
When: Wednesday at 6 p.m.
Where: Lakeland HS
Key players: NR— Harwan Alzuabidi, Sr., F; Omar Espinoza, Jr., MF; Omar Tejeda, Sr., MF; Felipe Tobon, Jr., D; Cristian Valencia, Sr., D. Ith — Phyo Htet, Sr., F; Kevin Klaben, Sr., GK; Alex Patz, Sr., F; Nathan Strominger, Jr., D; Mason Todhunter, Jr., MF.
Outlook: Don’t let the Huguenots’ record fool you. This team is very talented and is peaking at the right time. A few players told me that they felt like they played their best game of the season against Arlington in Saturday’s sectional final, particularly in a first half which saw New Ro score three without allowing a shot on goal. In the past, the Huguenots were thought of as a team with untapped potential, but third-year coach Jarohan Garcia has orchestrated a dramatic turnaround. New Rochelle is now a team which usually wins the possession battle and successfully limits its’ opponents touches. That’s exactly what it did to the Admirals on Saturday, taking care of the defending champions with relative ease. It’s fair to say the Huguenots’ confidence is at an all-time high, but this will be their first appearance on this stage in 20 years. For Ithaca, this is familiar territory. The Little Red won their fourth consecutive Section 4 title on Saturday, and they were the team that knocked out Arlington on penalty kicks last season during regionals. That was a stinging loss for the Admirals, who felt that they outplayed Ithaca for much of the game but failed to come up with a clutch goal. Ithaca returns the same goalkeeper from that day in Klaben, so New Ro will have to find a way to solve him. Alzuabidi, Espinoza and Valencia have been standouts offensively this postseason, and the return of Tejeda after missing the section final will give the Huguenots yet another weapon. The Little Red usually play a two-forward system, with Htet and Patz responsible for much of the scoring. It was Patz who had the winner in the section final.
Coach speak: “The message that we’ve tried to send the players is our transition from defense to offense. We have very talented players on offense, but we also have very talented players on defense. It was just a matter of learning how to make that transition, almost seamlessly, and that’s what we’ve worked on all year long. My assistant coaches and I just kept telling the players, ‘It’s not about the first game, or even the 14th game of the season. We want things to be falling into place right when the sectionals begin and see where we are then.’ ” — New Rochelle coach Jarohan Garcia
Up next: The winner will play the Section 9 champion, either Monroe-Woodbury or Newburgh, in the regional final on Saturday at Middletown HS
Class A regional semifinal
Somers (16-2-2) vs. Section 4’s Vestal (14-2-2)
When: Wednesday at 3:30 p.m.
Where: Lakeland HS
Key players: Som — Luke Bugoni, Sr., D; Evan Keiltyka, Sr., MF/D; Kenny Kurtz, Sr., GK; Jack Maher, Sr., MF; Jon Riina, So., F. Ves — Corey Barr, Jr., MF; Evan Hofmann, Jr., GK; Dan Mansfield, So., F; Alex Paccone, Sr., D; John Scott, Sr., MF.
Outlook: In another matchup of Section 1 vs. Section 4, we have two teams coming off of very different championship finals. The Tuskers’ game against Pearl River was still scoreless with five minutes to play, but freshman Drew Lasher played the role of hero with 3:57 to go. Vestal had a much easier time in its final, handling Maine-Endwell with a 4-0 win for its third title in a row. Mansfield scored twice in the first half and seems to be coming into his own in his sophomore season. I’ve also heard good things about the set pieces from the Golden Bears, particularly long throw-ins from Paccone. Somers’ go-to scorer has been Maher, who scored four times in four playoff games and is up to 13 goals for the season. But the Tuskers have also been getting contributions from a cast of underclassmen which includes Lasher, Riina, Lucas Fecci and Max Grell. Together, they’ve provided enough offense to keep this train rolling, but they haven’t been asked to put up crooked numbers. That’s because Kurtz and the Somers defense have allowed just one goal in the playoffs, and none within the flow of the game (a PK in the semis against Byram is the only blemish). Kurtz has proven that he’s one of the best goalkeepers in Section 1, and perhaps New York State. If he can stifle the Vestal attack the same way that he did that of high-powered teams like Byram Hills and Pearl River, he’ll give the Tuskers an excellent chance to move on.
Coach speak: “I have a rotational system for the subs. Guys are going to run for 10 minutes, take a break, and then another 10 minutes. What people forget is that the midfielders, they have a two-second resting rate. The defenders have a six-second resting rate and the forwards have a four-second resting rate on their running, so I brought up some young talent – a lot of sophomores – and the sophomores, juniors and seniors all knew their roles and respected each other.” — Somers coach Brian Lanzetta
Up next: The winner will play Section 9 champion Goshen in the regional final on Saturday at Middletown HS
Class B regional semifinal
Hastings (17-1-1) vs. Section 9’s Fallsburg (16-0-1)
When: Wednesday at 4 p.m.
Where: Middletown HS
Key players: RN — Hs — Alex Bourgeois, Jr., D; Nate Constantine, Sr., D; Oscar Pereira, Sr., D; Andrea Russo, Sr., MF; Jackson Silverstein, Sr., F. Fb — Selvin Brizuela, Jr., GK; Kevin Cerritos, Sr., F; Kelvin Nunez, Jr., MF; Luis Romero, Sr., MF; Andres Tamayo, Sr., MF.
Outlook: These are exciting times for Fallsburg, which beat Spackenkill 2-1 on Friday to earn its first Section 9 title since 1992. The Comets are a diverse group with mostly Spanish-speaking players, and they’ve really come into their own this season. In fact, they’ve yet to lose a game. They certainly seem to be a worthy opponent for the Yellow Jackets, who only have one loss of their own, and none against a Class B opponent. They’re coming off of an intense battle against Rye Neck for supremacy in Section 1, so these three days off have been a welcomed opportunity to regroup and recover. The 1-0 win gave them their second championship in a row, and they’re determined to go further in the state tournament this time around. Hastings will be defending its regional title, which it won last year by upsetting then-No. 1 in the state Southampton. Many of those key players are back, plus a few key additions who returned this season from the U.S. Academy system. They’ve made the Yellow Jackets a more skilled, possession-oriented team, which is why many believe this year’s team is better than the 2015 version. They were dominant throughout the regular season, but the playoffs came with some scary moments, including an overtime game against Edgemont in the quarterfinals and a very close final against Rye Neck. Now that Hastings has survived and advanced, it will need to get back to the style that made it look like a state title contender for much of the year. When the Jackets are clicking, they can put up goals in a hurry. Fallsburg seems to rely heavily on the duo of Cerritos and Nunez, who accounted for most of their offense during the playoffs. They can expect to see heavy doses of Bourgeois and Pereira, who are Hastings’ most versatile players and lock-down defenders. Those will be the matchups to watch.
Coach speak: “Over the course of the season, we’ve tried to find the best spots for everybody. We have new personnel around, and the only two who actually started for us back there last year are Alex Bourgeois and Nate Constantine. We started Reid (Koken) at the beginning of the season as a midfielder, and he gravitated towards the back. And Oscar, we actually started him as a striker and found that, you know what? Center back is his role. A lot of our talent is in the back.” — Hastings coach Fred Sandhop
Up next: The winner will play the winner between Carle Place (Section 8) and Center Moriches (Section 11) in the regional final on Saturday at a location to be determined.