As promised, here is my class-by-class breakdown that examines each class in Section 1, and which teams should be in the section title hunt. As I have for the past few seasons, I’ve come up with five categories and identified which team fits into each in all four classes. At the end of the season, we’ll be able to go back and see how I did.
The Champ: Arlington – Not only did the Admirals win a section title last year, but they went onto capture a state title in a season that won’t soon be forgotten. Arlington will have a target on its back, but a tremendous feeder system should help coach Craig Sanborn replenish. He lost important pieces at every position from forward to goalkeeper, but guys like David Verdis, Kevin Hoff, Peter Garson and Nik Linnane all comeback with valuable championship experience.
The Favorite: Arlington – When you win a state title, it’s difficult to label any other team as the favorite for the following season. The Admirals have the premiere program in Section 1 right now, and will remain the cream of the crop until someone knocks them off.
The Contender: Port Chester – Despite this being the Rams’ first season as a member of Class AA, it wouldn’t be wise to discount them as a legitimate section title contender. Port Chester produces oodles of soccer talent and has managed to starve off most of the temptations of playing for an academy team. Despite losing several starters to graduation from the team that reached the Class A state final last season, the Rams have enough talent to make a run with postseason star Steven Hernandez leading the charge. They proved that in their season-opener with a 2-1 win over White Plains, which is another top contender in Class AA.
Old Reliable: Scarsdale – Year after year, the Raiders field one of the most competitive teams in the section. Coach Joseph Cipriano led a loaded squad to a section title in 2010, and now has a team that could make a run at a second in four years. Scarsdale reached the semis last season and played eventual state champ Arlington tough in a one-goal loss, so their sights are set high in 2013. Experienced players are returning, led by senior captains Alex Gaujean and Neils Mariager, which makes the Raiders a viable threat to unseat the Admirals. In fact, Scarsdale’s entire league – most notably White Plains and Mamaroneck – should be taken very seriously in Class AA.
The Sleeper: Ossining – Some might say that I’m reaching a bit by picking a team that couldn’t even make it out of the outbracket round last season, but that’s why we call this the sleeper category. The Pride had their ups-and-downs in 2012, but they did so with a young team that showed promise in several games. In fact, coach Joe Scamarone carried just three seniors on the team last year, so it would be difficult not to expect significant improvement with so many returning varsity players. Saying that Ossining will compete for a section title may be a bit of a stretch, but they could very well be one of the top seven or eight teams in the class.
Also look out for: John Jay-East Fishkill, Mamaroneck, Mahopac, North Rockland, White Plains
The Champ: Port Chester – The Rams have been a terror for Class A opponents for years now, but the move to Class AA takes the defending champ out of the section title picture for 2013. Go ahead, Class A coaches. It’s OK to let out a sigh of relief.
The Favorite: Byram Hills – With PC no longer standing in the Bobcats’ way, they enter this season as the undisputed team to beat in Class A. They lost to the Rams in last year’s section final, which leaves Byram as the team that went the furthest last year out of the remaining teams in the class. There are legitimate questions to be answered – most notably who will pick up the scoring slack now that Section 1 large school player of the year Jon Berry has graduated – but the Bobcats have some polished players back who will keep them very competitive. Coach Matty Allen has built a program that you can expect to be in the section title conversation year in, and year out.
The Contender: Pelham – There are a handful of good choices for this spot, but the Pelicans are a team with a lot of preseason buzz among coaches and the type of returning talent to get it done. They return eight starters, led by seniors Aidan Murray and Charlie Livingstone, plus a few others who received playing time last year. Pelham has the ability to score goals in bunches, and if the defense can tighten up a bit, the sky may be the limit. Of course, looking good on paper doesn’t always translate to the field, and after losing to Byram in the quarters last season, the Pelicans know that they have something to prove.
Old Reliable: Lakeland – Aside from Byram and Port Chester, no other team in Class A has been as consistent as the Hornets in the past decade. In the last eight seasons, Lakeland has reached the semis six times, including a section title in 2011. The group that was responsible for that title is now almost entirely gone, but we’ve learned before not to count the Hornets out. The main concern for coach Tim Hourahan is some preseason injuries – most notably two-year starting goalkeeper Reggis Mora, who has a broken ankle but is hopeful for a late season return.
The Sleeper: Nyack – After failing to qualify for sectionals just two years ago, the Indians earned some respect back around the section in 2012. Not only did they knock off preseason favorite Pearl River to win a surprising league title, but they also upset Beacon on the road in the first round of the playoffs. Now, with several returning starters – most notably All-Section defender Gabe Rivera and skilled striker Kayode Tyler – Nyack will look to take yet another step in the right direction. A 3-1 win over Class AA finalist North Rockland in its season-opener was certainly a good start.
Also look out for: Beacon, Edgemont, Keio, Lourdes, Somers
The Champ: Blind Brook – After winning a section title in 2011 thanks in large part to the scoring exploits of Lucas McBride, no one expected the Trojans to duplicate that success without their explosive striker. Well, goalkeeper Ben Seguljic must have missed the memo, but he responded by leading Blind Brook to a second consecutive title and earning TJN Westchester/Putnam player of the year honors. Now that Seguljic is playing at Providence, here we go with the questions again. On the surface, it looks like the Trojans could take a step back with so many holes on the back end, but I think we’ve learned to never say never with this program.
The Favorite: Valhalla – It’s tough to pick a favorite in Class B this season, but I’ve been saying that I like the Vikings all offseason, and I’m sticking to it. This is a team that got significantly better as the season went on last year, and the result was a trip to the semis. With eight returning starters, coach Sandro Prosperino is playing down high expectations, but there is a certain level of focus at Valhalla because they know this could be a special year. The Vikings got off to a good start, winning the Mount Pleasant Cup with a 1-0 win over a very talented Briarcliff team.
The Contender: Briarcliff – After winning a league title and reaching the quarterfinals last season, the Bears looked poised for an even better year in 2013. They lost a few key defenders, but return goalkeeper Kevin Louie to hold things down in the back. From the midfield up, Briarcliff returns the vast majority of its starters, including leading scorer Jon Cabeca. A 1-0 loss to Valhalla in the Mount Pleasant Cup final shows that the Bears may be a slight step behind the Vikings at the moment, but they have the talent to make some serious noise in Class B this season.
Old Reliable: Bronxville – Before Blind Brook went on its run of back-to-back titles, the premiere program in Class B had been Bronxville. The Broncos are contenders every single year, but a shocking loss in the first round last season after earning the top seed in sectionals leaves them with something to prove in 2013. I have a feeling that we’ll see them bounce back, particularly with several key returners, such as keeper Jack Connors and striker Sam Aherne.
The Sleeper: Irvington – There are several teams that I considered here, but the Bulldogs have something that not many other teams in the class can match – a proven weapon up top. Senior Ben Ovetsky is coming off of a 20-goal season, and has already found the back of the net a few times early this year. Irvington showed some resolve by rallying from a two-goal deficit to tie Bronxville in its season-opener, which may have gotten the attention of some other Class B teams.
Also look out for: Albertus Magnus, North Salem, Pleasantville, Rye Neck, Westlake
The Champ: Solomon Schechter – The Lions weren’t the popular preseason pick last year, but they proved to be the best team in Class C by the end of the season. Now, it’s matter of trying to duplicate that success with the target on their backs.
The Favorite: Solomon Schechter – With the confidence of having won the title last season with a young roster, Schechter looks poised for a repeat. The Lions best player last year was midfielder Ari Leffell, and he’s back to lead a team that returns key players all over the field. They have some scoring ability, which should give them a distinct advantage over most Class C schools.
The Contender: Haldane – Schechter’s No. 1 challenger will be the Blue Devils, who lost to the Lions in last year’s section final. They felt like they were right there in that game and the loss stuck with them throughout the offseason. If any team in the class can match Schechter’s firepower, it’s Haldane, led by midfielder Jay Marchese and forward Aidan Draper. A rematch between these two teams would be a must-see.
File photos from The Journal News