PEARL RIVER — Four years ago, a baby-faced freshman named Kevin Doorley was added to Pearl River’s varsity boys soccer roster. Slight in frame but big on skill, Doorley earned playing time as an underclassman and has been on one heck of a ride ever since.
In 2013, the Pirates reached the Class A final, losing to Pelham while taking an important step forward for the program.
In 2014, they went undefeated in the regular season before getting upset by Eastchester in the quarterfinals of the playoffs.
And in 2015, Pearl River had the best season in school history, winning its first Section 1 title in 20 years and reaching its first-ever state final.
Now entering his senior season, Doorley is the elder statesman of the team, having been through some of the most dramatic ups and downs in program history.
“It’s definitely different, but I learned a lot from all of the other kids,” he said. “We wanted more than the section championship — we wanted the state championship. We still do.”
The 2015 team was senior-heavy, with 10 now graduated who contributed to the historic playoff run, including Journal News Rockland player of the year Sean Coughlan.
Doorley and fellow three-year starter Craig MacDonald remain, but their roles have drastically changed — from talented role players to the undisputed leaders of a relatively inexperienced team.
“It’s going to be difficult, and we know that,” MacDonald said. “But I think what people don’t know is that we had a lot of guys last year who didn’t see the playing time because we had such a strong group of starters.”
The Pirates will now count on players such as Christian Madigan, Francesco Galvano, Timmy Valentine and Dara Donnelly to meet the challenge of defending their title. Talented sophomore Denis Fleming is another name to remember.
Offensively, Doorley and MacDonald have proven to be adept scoring threats, but the new starters on defense will have to get up to speed. Having a returning starter in goal, senior Dolan Ocasal, should help in that regard.
“I wouldn’t necessarily call them holes,” coach Damon O’Keefe said of the losses to graduation. “We’ve got guys that have been playing this game for a while, and now it’s their turn. We feel up top this is probably one of our most skilled teams on the ball. We’re going to have our issues size-wise, but we feel that if we keep the ball on the ground, we’re going to be all right.”
There won’t be much time for an adjustment period. Pearl River will open on Labor Day against Lakeland, which also looks like a top-five team in Class A, followed by tough out-of-league games against Pelham and Mamaroneck.
As the defending section champs, the Pirates know they’re going to get every opponent’s best effort.
“Two years ago, having an undefeated regular season, and then coming back last year and taking it a step further, we’re kind of used to it — having everyone trying to get us,” MacDonald said. “It’s exciting in that way, and I think we’ll be able to handle it pretty well.”