Photos By Caroline Logan
Rye High Boys’ Soccer
Garnets Bring Home Section Title
BY MITCH SILVER
The top-seeded Rye Boys’ Soccer team traveled to Lakeland High School the afternoon of November 2 to play Somers for the Section 1 title. As luck would have it, Lakeland’s field was the one where the Garnets toiled all through June and July, contending with Somers, John Jay, and other Westchester and Rockland powerhouses for the Lakeland Summer League title. Head Coach Jared Small’s team won that one when it was hot, and Saturday they won again on a cool, autumn day. But it wasn’t easy.
The Tuskers, defending Class A champions who came in ranked No. 6 in the State, made it through their northern Westchester league without a loss. The only blemish on their 17-1 record was a 4-3 midseason, non-league defeat by Byram Hills. They reached Saturday’s final by stomping a very good Yorktown team in the quarters by 7-1 and then handling an even better Pearl River team — the one that knocked Rye out of the playoffs on penalty kicks last year — 4-2.
Rye came in with an equally good record, losing only to the same Byram Hills squad early in the campaign by a 1-0 score. The Garnets atoned for that by beating the Bobcats in their return match and again in the Section semifinals, by a 4-2 score last Wednesday.
Last Saturday’s game started as if the field was tilted Somers’ way. The Garnets couldn’t clear the ball out of their end, and senior goalkeeper Kai Haesslein was forced into a couple of early saves. He was unable to stop a Drew Lasher strike off a setup from Ethan Cukaj 11 minutes in.
At that point, Coach Small made some key moves. He inserted juniors Luke Burnham and Amar Jaswal to stiffen the midfield, and moved Nic Logan from his position at right fullback to cover Somers’ playmaker, Bennett Leitner, for the rest of the game.
Small had spent a lot of the pre-season and much of the fall schedule working on the team’s mental toughness. He even brought Rye Lacrosse coach Steve Lennon into the Lakeland locker room for a pre-game pep talk that stressed digging down and remaining calm. It paid off just seven minutes later when Michael Traynor took one of Jonathan Mehrara’s enormous throw-ins and converted it into the tying goal.
The remainder of the opening stanza was an even affair. Even, that is, until ninth grader Jonas van Beurden, playing on the same team as his older brother Pepijn, dribbled down the right wing after his teammates had tic-tac’d the ball around the attacking third. When he wasn’t immediately closed down, van Beurdan sent the perfect right-footed shot high over his defender and the keeper into the upper 90. Rye led for the first time with five minutes to go, and they kept the lead into the locker room.
Nine minutes into the second half, it was the Tuskers’ turn to score against the run of play. Daniel Dippolito had the ball at his feet at the edge of Rye’s penalty box. A defender was all over him, with another Rye player backing him up. The sophomore midfielder faked left, turned right, and slashed the ball left-footed past both Garnets and goalie Haesslein. Tie game.
Rye got more bad news when high scorer Jake Creus received a yellow card for a rough tackle two minutes later. Creus had to leave the game with a bone bruise and never returned.
It was a back-and-forth game for the next 15 to 20 minutes. Then, a training ground maneuver won the game for the Garnets. Mehrara launched another one of his heaves from the left touchline. Pepijn van Beurden got his head on the throw and flicked it behind him to Ata Aslan. It initially looked like freshman goalie Anthony Tucci had stopped the ball, but it slid just under his arm and into the net.
Somers scrambled to tie the game and they almost did. Leitner, the Tuskers’ most dangerous player all game, struck a shot with six and a half minutes to go that beat Haesslein but grazed the crossbar on its way out of play. And then, after agonizing minutes, the game was over and Rye had its first Sectional title in 40 years.