As far as the history of boys soccer in Section 1 is concerned, this past weekend could go down as the start of something big or a nice story with an anticlimactic ending.
For the first time since 2008, local teams completed a sweep in the regional finals. Somers (Class A) and Hastings (Class B) won in convincing fashion, while New Rochelle (Class AA) and North Salem (Class C) survived overtime thrillers to keep their storybook seasons alive.
“It’s almost a sense of unity in Section 1, and the more successful you become, the more pride you feel,” New Rochelle coach Jarohan Garcia said. “Seeing the talent is amazing. You look at Hastings, and that’s a team that can play with anyone. It’s pretty amazing that Section 1 went 4 for 4.”
To keep the winning streak going will be a serious challenge.
Section 1 hasn’t claimed a state championship in boys soccer since Arlington won Class AA in 2012, and titles have been a rarity since the current class system was implemented in 2004. The section has won it all just five times in the last 12 years — Arlington in ’06 and ’12, Byram Hills (Class A) in ’07, Bronxville (Class B) in ’08 and Keio (Class C) in ’04 — which has led to a statewide reputation for mediocrity.
If even just one of the four remaining teams is able to capture a state title this weekend at Middletown High, it would be a momentous achievement. If more than one can do it, it would send a reverberating message throughout the state.
“We had three go in (to the state semifinals) last year, and we got bounced in the first game,” Hastings coach Fred Sandhop said. “Pearl River and Schechter made it to the final, and unfortunately didn’t bring it home. This is kind of like a second chance. Section 1 has been creeping up and it really is a great feat to bring four communities and their pride for Section 1 to states.”
For the large schools, the biggest obstacle will be the Long Island champions. Our neighbors to the south have dominated the fields in Classes AA and A, claiming five of the last six titles in AA and seven of the last eight in A. (That includes a tie in 2013.)
New Rochelle and Somers will be pitted against Long Island opponents in the state semis on Saturday — Section 8’s Calhoun for the Huguenots and Section 11’s Amityville for the Tuskers.
“They’re a typical Long Island team,” Garcia said of the Colts after watching them beat Brentwood 3-2 in overtime on Sunday. “They’re organized, they’re good defensively and they know how to put their chances away. They’re not going to make mistakes and beat themselves. I’m expecting a hard game — an 80-minute battle.”
Somers may be in for an even tougher battle against the Warriors, who beat Pearl River in last year’s state final for the championship. But the Tuskers have been playing their best soccer of the year in recent weeks, with four shutouts in six playoff games. In two regional games, they outscored their opponents 5-0.
“I just think that the boys at this point are so focused,” Somers coach Brian Lanzetta said. “The urgency that we’ve been playing with is to try to get the first goal and then break teams down.”
Hastings and North Salem won’t have to worry about any Long Island teams in the small school ranks. And in the Yellow Jackets’ case, that’s because they just eliminated Section 8 champ Carle Place with a 4-0 statement win.
Many observers believe that Hastings has the best opportunity to bring a state title back to Section 1, in part because it experienced this stage last season. The Jackets will get Section 2’s Ichabod Crane in the state semis and North Salem will take on Section 10’s Potsdam.
“I don’t think you get this far without having some kind of asset,” North Salem coach Ron Hendrie said. “There’s a lot of ways to be strong in soccer — sometimes you’re fast, sometimes you’re skilled, sometimes you’re just really physical and strong. I’m not sure what they’re bringing to the game, but we’ll find out.”
Between the four local teams heading up to Middletown, the odds of Section 1 winning at least one championship are as great as they’ve been in the six years I’ve been covering the sport.
Now all that’s left to do is see who, if anyone, can get it done and be remembered as champions.
“We don’t think anyone is going to beat us unless we beat ourselves,” Sandhop said. “We truly believe that, but looking at the competition, we thought that (defending champion) Elmira Notre Dame was really good, and they lost. It’s high school soccer. Who shows up and has that heart and plays that near perfect game, that’s going to be your victor.”