BOB LIEPA PHOTO
Cesar Puluc dribbled forward while being chased by Diego Guazambho during Riverhead’s practice last Thursday morning.
A good deal of change is in the air for the Riverhead High School boys soccer team, but one constant remains: The Blue Waves are looking to make school history by qualifying for the playoffs for the first time.
“That would be a great achievement for Riverhead soccer,” said A. J. Kretschmer, who is in his second year as the team’s coach.
While it surely wouldn’t come easily, Kretschmer believes shooting for the playoffs is a realistic goal. Some positive signs have been seen. Fifty-five players — the largest turnout in at least the past several years — tried out for the varsity and junior varsity teams. Last year’s team, although young, went 5-9 and was competitive, losing a handful of games by one goal. This year’s team is loaded with eight seniors.
“We may have outplayed teams [in terms of possession] last year, but tactically at times we slipped up, and it cost us,” Kretschmer said. “The best team on the field skill-wise doesn’t always win, and that’s the bottom line in soccer. If you’re organized, you have a good shot at winning.”
But Riverhead, which played in Suffolk County League IV last year, has been bumped up to League III, which Kretschmer said is a tougher league.
Riverhead will rely on the talents of Pedro Carrillo, Cesar Puluc and Jordan Cangas. Carrillo, a junior center midfielder, was an all-conference selection. Puluc, a senior forward, was the team’s leading scorer. Cangas, a senior stopper, was an all-league player.
Meanwhile, senior forward Raul Hernandez, senior center midfielder Nery Paredes, senior midfielder Milo Perez, junior defender Abner Ortiz, junior midfielder Jordan Fulcoly and sophomore forward Jose Bonilla are also returning starters. Two others, midfielder Josue Cruz and midfielder/defender Edwin Robles, have varsity experience.
Joe Inzalaco, a junior, and Isay Cruz, a senior, are competing for the starting goalkeeper position. Christian Meza, a defender who is an exchange student from Peru, is new to the team along with midfielder/forward Matt Nunoz, midfielder/forward Andrew Ruggiero, sweeper Diego Guazambho, midfielder Nabio Rangell, defender Kevin Antunes and defender Edwin Rosales.
“I can tell by practice right now that our maturity has improved and the intensity level has improved, which is exciting for me,” said Kretschmer, whose team won the League IV sportsmanship award last year.
The formation Riverhead will use is up in the air, as are a number of positions. Riverhead has more depth this year, and with that, more competition for spots.
“The question marks are a good thing this year,” Kretschmer said. “Last year they weren’t such a good thing because we lacked the depth. This year there’s competition. I’m going to have an extremely deep bench this year.”
More than anything, though, Kretschmer is counting on his seniors.
“The seniors are going to lead this team this year,” he said. “They have to step up. … It’s up to them in the field. I can put them in the right spot, but it’s up to them to make the plays.”
Winning games has been a rarity for Bishop McGann-Mercy. In the three varsity seasons that the Monarchs have played, they have gone 4-36-2. That includes an 0-14 mark last season, Louis Manoussos’ first as the team’s coach.
But Manoussos sees a better scenario this year, envisioning wins in the near future.
“There’s something in the air here,” he said. “There’s that feeling that something is going to happen.”
For one thing, the Monarchs have 13 returning players, seven of whom were starters last year. Another plus has been the formation of junior high school and junior varsity teams, something the Monarchs didn’t have last year.
Bereket Watts, an eighth-grade striker, returns for his second varsity season. He is joined by other established varsity veterans such as junior defender Lukas Zenna, senior midfielder Sean Cappiello, sophomore striker/midfielder Patrick Derenze, sophomore striker Damian Duda, junior goalkeeper Roger Young and senior defender Justin Da Silva. Drew Rajotte, a defensive midfielder, returns along with left midfielder Conor Galvin, midfielder Brian Willett, midfielder Robert Borgano, and forwards Chris Morrill and Zachary Burbano.
They were all part of a team that Manoussos said showed notable improvement over the course of last season.
“The pain that we went through last year on the field, no team can ever forget that, no team,” the coach said. “That only makes us stronger mentally, and now we’re on a mission, literally.”
Joining that mission are newcomers like defender/goalkeeper Rocco Pascale, midfielder John Marano, midfielder Michael Shelton, defender Carl Dickinson, defender William Affourtit and striker Ryan Walker.
Once again, McGann-Mercy will face a tough League VII schedule, but Manoussos welcomes the competition in the belief that it will help make his team better.
“Our theme this year is we respect everybody, but we don’t fear anybody, either,” he said. “We’re just going to go out there and we’re going to play hard and we’re going to give [opponents] a run for their money.”
One of the more prominent characteristics of the team is the optimism the players show despite the hardships they have endured.
“We won’t allow them to quit on themselves,” Manoussos said. “Our coaches are very positive. We never want our kids to feel that they can’t accomplish their goals.”
Manoussos imagines that his first win as McGann-Mercy’s coach will be a sweet one.
“When the team actually gets that first one, guess what, the second one is not too far off, either, and the third one is right around the corner,” he said. “That’s how it works.”