Sometimes in order to fully appreciate where it is, a team needs to reflect on where it has been.
The Shoreham-Wading River High School boys soccer team had gone through the ringer, and that was only last year. Since then, however, the scars from that 2-13-1 season have healed nicely.
Improved Shoreham (9-5-1, 8-4 Suffolk County League VI) wrapped up its regular season Wednesday with a 5-1 defeat of visiting Mount Sinai. Now the Wildcats are waiting to see who they will face in the playoffs.
Talk about doing a 180-degree turn. That’s quite a transformation under the team’s new head coach, Russ Mitchinson. “For us it was a mentality,” he said. “We came in with a clean slate.”
Trey Ekert, a senior attacking midfielder who was pulled up to the varsity team as a freshman, is as good a witness to what has transpired as anyone. “I’ve been through it all,” he said. “I’ve been through good games, bad games, long bus rides, nice, good high-five rides. Everything.”
Now Ekert and his teammates are enjoying the fruits of a winning season that stands in stark contrast to what they went through last year.
“After a team last year that came with a lot of internal problems, every bus ride seemed like our heads were down, nothing was going good for us, and we just turned it around this year,” Ekert said. “It’s been awesome.”
Shoreham celebrated the completion of its regular season by winning one for its 11 seniors (six of whom are regular starters), who may have played their final game on Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field. Matthew Moran, Kyle Michaelson, Brady Cummings, Anthony Guzzone and Tyler McAuley all scored for the Wildcats. Ekert and Michaelson had two assists each.
The victory can’t hurt Shoreham’s playoff seeding, but it also had emotional value for seniors like Ekert. “This was a big, massive win for us today,” he said. “I’ll never forget this one.”
Shoreham kept Mount Sinai goalkeeper Noah Endelson (11 saves) busy. The Wildcats held a commanding 24-6 advantage in shots, turning in a complete performance.
“We came out with a lot of intensity,” said Michaelson, a junior forward. “I think we played one of our best games of the year. I think we played hard. We never stopped.”
Moran opened the scoring 3 minutes, 30 seconds into the match, and the Wildcats were off and running. Breakaway goals by Michaelson and Cummings in the final 5:19 of the half sent Shoreham into halftime with a 3-0 lead.
“The more the game went on, the cleaner we got, the crisper our game got, the better we were able to move the ball around,” Mitchinson said. “We can use that as a foundation for whoever’s next.”
Mount Sinai (5-7-1, 4-7-1) pulled a goal back with a Jake Bonanno header, assisted by Shane Bombace 15:27 into the second half.
But Shoreham finished strong. Guzzone weaved through the Mount Sinai defense for his goal and McAuley, a fan favorite, excited the crowd by knocking in a left-wing service from Michaelson.
Shoreham goalie Wesley Pase made four saves.
“I tell them every day I’m proud of them,” Mitchinson said. “There are multiple reasons to be proud of them. The character, the composure that they showed today, there’s no quit in this team any way you cut it. Every game we’ve been in, win or lose, we play until that last whistle. That’s stuff you can’t teach.”
The losing that Shoreham experienced last year has had an affect this year.
“It makes [winning] feel 10 times better,” Michaelson said. “Losing almost every game last year, and now winning most of the games feels great.”
Ekert said attitudes on the team have improved from a year ago. “There’s just a crazy buzz every time we go into practice,” he said. “Every ball that we play, every tackle that we go into, everything is just way better than last year. Everyone has a smile on their face.”
And why not? The Wildcats have a lot to smile about these days.
Photo caption: Kyle Michaelson reacts after his goal gave Shoreham-Wading River a 2-0 lead with 5:19 left in the first half. (Credit: Bob Liepa)