Fifteen years ago, Rich Savage coached the 2008 edition of Rye High School’s girls’ soccer team to a New York State Championship. A decade and a half later, his 2023 squad matched the accomplishment, winning the Class A state title in mid-November.
Just a few weeks after that, the two groups of players met each other on the field for a match that was part exhibition, part reunion – and all camaraderie.
“The day was an incredible success,” Savage said. “The 2008 team members extremely enjoyed meeting each other once again on the field, and many played the game in their high school soccer jerseys.”
The current players also got a charge out of meeting the older champs.
“It was such an amazing experience getting to meet the 2008 state champions,” said Reese Lejuez, a junior midfielder. “We were all so excited to meet the girls who shared the same experience as we had, and we had so much fun playing the friendly match against them. It is so cool to think that it could be us one day coming back to visit the next state champs.”
The 2008 teammates returning for the event included: Lia Bellizzi, the high school’s all-time leading goal scorer and a two-time All-American player; Tatiana Saunders, also a two-time All-American, who currently lives in England and plays for Durham Women FC; Amanda Benincasa, known for throw-ins that could sail more than 35 yards; Alex Jordan, a feisty outside-midfielder; and Natalie Moore, who arrived at the game straight from the airport – upon returning from her honeymoon.
Also: Maddy Chabot, another outside-midfield player; Catherine Greer, a Tufts University player of the year who later married her high school boyfriend Kevin Ramsey, a member of football coach Dino Garr’s Rye football team, which also won a state championship in 2008 (as did Garr’s 2023 football squad, remarkably enough); and Alex Rimmer, the second-leading all-time goal scorer for Rye, who also holds the goal-scoring record for Hamilton College, where one of the team’s current seniors, Isabelle Harvey, will be attending classes in the fall.
Savage noted that the reunion game’s roster was supplemented with parents and others who made appearances during the match.
“There was Emily Keenan, an incredibly crafty player. Rob Brown, Bowyn Brown’s dad, made a first-half appearance and displayed his soccer skills,” the coach said. “Fathers Walsh and Labovitz each played a solid half in the goal.
“Also making appearances on the pitch were Reese Lejiuz’s dad, Mali White’s father, and ’08 player Alex Jordan’s dad, Mike, as well as Sophia Shoemaker’s mom, Gina,” the coach continued. “All the Savages—my sons Sean and Richard and I—played a little as well. The last time the 2008 team saw both Richard and Sean, they were only 9 and 7 years old—so it was fun to see them as 23- and 21-year-old young men.”
Boys’ soccer coach Jared Small, the volunteer referee for the reunion match, viewed the day’s activities through the lens of a coach and educator.
“It was neat to stand back and observe the quality and strength of the relationships that these student-athletes have developed with Rich,” Small said. “The culture of positivity and competitiveness that propelled the 2023 team to the state championship was very much still on display for the 2008 players—both in their interactions with each other and their beloved coach.
“All these players, and certainly many who didn’t ultimately win a state championship, are supremely talented,” he added, “but these amazing team accomplishments wouldn’t have been possible without the rapport building and sense of community that Rich has built.”
“The whole game was so much fun!” said Bowyn Brown, a junior midfielder on the current team. “It was amazing to play against older players, knowing they went through the same experience that we just went through. I can’t wait until the next group of younger players wins and we get to put our cleats back on and see everyone for what might be the first time in decades.”
Savage noted that the two-class reunion game, unlike the championship finals won by his 2008 and 2023 teams, was not about the final score. “The 2023 squad ended up winning the friendly match 4-2, but it was all about the camaraderie and connecting two incredible groups of athletes who both won state championships,” he said. Also, “they had the support of their parents, either cheering on the sidelines or playing on the pitch.
“By the way,” he added, “I think the ’08s and parents had an important reminder of how physically demanding a game of soccer can be!”