YORKTOWN HEIGHTS — From afar, the turf field at Yorktown High appeared to be hosting a large gathering on Tuesday, perhaps a function for all of its fall athletes. Lines of students covered just about all 100 yards, which made it look more like a rally than any kind of practice.
But upon further examination, dozens of soccer balls came into view. The large assembly of male athletes were there for one sport, and one sport only.
“It’s so encouraging,” Yorktown senior Adam Romanski said. “We have 83 kids trying out. It’s ridiculous how popular soccer has gotten in Yorktown.”
Long known for its excellent lacrosse program, Yorktown has been coming on strong on the Section 1 boys soccer scene in recent years. The Huskers have appeared in back-to-back sectional championship games, and the student body appears to be taking notice.
Coach Ed Polchinski called this year’s turnout easily the best he’s seen in his nine years with the program, and for a team which is already returning seven of 11 starters, the added depth should only make them stronger.
“It definitely shows that kids around here are interested in soccer,” senior Joey Landicino said. “Their level of play will rise because they see how good we’re doing.”
The previous two seasons, Yorktown embraced the role of underdog and ran with it.
In 2014 as a Class A team, the Huskers reached the final as the No. 11 seed and lost in overtime to Byram Hills. Last season as a Class AA team, they went on a similar run as the No. 7 seed, only losing to Arlington in the championship game on a controversial penalty kick.
As they prepare to enter the 2016 season, once again as a member of Class AA, it’s fair to say that the Huskers’ days of sneaking up on teams are over.
“We know exactly what it’s like being a lower seed,” Romanski said. “Even if we’re, let’s say a four-seed this year, we can’t underestimate any seed because we know exactly what it was like. Everyone underestimated us, and we came out and beat them all.”
The biggest concern for Yorktown is replacing All-State goalkeeper Giuliano Santucci, although it doesn’t seem to be much of a worry for the current players. Santucci has rejoined the U.S. Academy system for his senior year, but junior Mauricio Arango has been groomed as his successor.
Arango was expected to start last season as a sophomore before Santucci decided to return to the program.
“Don’t get me wrong — Giuliano is one of my best friends and I’ve known him for a long time,” Landicino said. “He’s one of the best keepers I’ve ever seen, but this year we’ve got a goalkeeper who is stepping up in Mauricio. He’s very good, he knows what he’s doing and he knows how to communicate with our back line. He can make the big saves when it matters.”
The rest of the roster appears to be well-rounded.
Senior Enzo Sangiacomo is a gifted playmaker in the midfield and Landicino is a proven finisher up top. Romanski is known as a defender who excels at marking opposing team’s top scorers, while others such as Matt Paddos, Ankit Patel, Alex Kaczor and Sam Arno return after gaining valuable varsity experience last year.
After coming close enough to taste a championship in each of the previous two seasons, the Huskers feel that it may finally be their time.
“We still think about it,” Sangiacomo said of the tough loss to Arlington last season. “It kind of motivates us because we went (to the section final) two years in a row, and if we go again for the third year, we’re not going to lose. That’s our mentality right now.”