By Clayton Collier
As the Comsewogue boys’ soccer team gears up for another season, they welcome a crop of new faces, headlined by a new head coach.
The reigning league champion Warriors have hired longtime Westhampton Beach varsity coach Don O’Brien to take over the program following the retirement of the now former head coach Dan Costello.
Comsewogue athletic director Matteo DeVincenzo said O’Brien was brought in because of his experience and track record for success. DeVincenzo said his expectations for the soccer program remain the same despite the coaching change.
“Our boys’ soccer teams always play hard and I expect this year to be no different,” he said.
Trevor Kennedy, an All-League defender, said the team had made a smooth transition with their new coach.
“Coach O’Brien has been a great fit,” he said. “Coach Costello picked him out, so I knew he was going to be a good. The whole team gets along with him and he wants to win, just like the rest of us.”
O’Brien, who coached against Comsewogue for more than two decades, said the environment has been positive in his first summer with the Warriors thus far.
“The kids have been awesome,” he said. “We worked together all summer, so I knew most of them. The kids have been very polite, they’re hardworking; they’re great.”
O’Brien is joined by first-year assistant Will Casey, an All-State player at Ward Melville, who went on to play soccer at Stony Brook University.
In addition to a new coaching staff, the Warriors also have the challenge of replacing a talented core lost to graduation. The biggest hurdle to overcome is the loss of forward James Thristino, who will play for Adelphi University this fall. Thristino finished his high school career third all-time in Suffolk County history with 78 goals, 41 of them coming in his senior year.
Returning for Comsewogue, however, will be All-County center midfielder Jimmy Contino. Finishing last season with 14 goals and 19 assists, Contino will be looked to as a primary offensive force for the Warriors.
“He’s one of the best players I’ve coached in a long time,” O’Brien said of Contino. “It’s not too often you get a junior All-County player unless they’re extremely special; and he is special.”
Unlike last year, O’Brien said there will be a number of his players looking to score.
“I have six capable goal scorers, which is more dangerous than one,” he said. “I think the kids are ready, and they’re good enough to win.”
O’Brien said having multiple scoring options will relieve some of the pressure off of sophomore Luis Hernandez, who will be seeing much of the time at forward in place of Thristino. Other scoring options include seniors Jake Muller and Nick Towler, among others.
Also taking over a starting role for the first time is senior goalkeeper Steven Towler, Nick’s twin brother. Towler, who replaces a goalie who made 111 saves in Chris Pedone, said watching his predecessor last season has helped prepare him to take over this fall.
“I learned a lot from him, but most of all, [he taught me] how to keep calm in stressful situations,” Towler said. “Composure is key in big games.”
Perhaps easing some of the pressure on Towler will be the predominantly returning defense, including seniors Trevor Kennedy, Mike Stiles, Henry Garcia and Cameron Patricio. O’Brien said Stiles, in particular, should have received some sort of recognition for his work from the league last season.
“Not to take anything away from the defense or the goalie last year, but they didn’t let up many goals last year and [Stiles] was a big part of it,” the head coach said. “The center defender sees a lot of action and he’s extremely physical. No one gets around him.”
Between Contino, Kennedy, Stiles, the Towler brothers, Garcia, Muller and Patricio, O’Brien has a veteran crew behind him this season.
“They’re already seasoned; they’re playoff proven,” he said. “Many of these kids started last season or came off the bench. There is a reason why they’re so good this season, and it is because of the players that are returning.”
Contino said, as a leader this season, his goal is to have a positive impact on the rest of the team.
“The main thing I am trying to do is just give every single player confidence and help every player play to their best of their abilities,” he said. “Not only am I trying to help them play as a team, but I do my best to make the players realize this is a family, a brotherhood, and by that, the kids will know someone always has their back, which will help boost confidence.”
Last season, in the Suffolk County Championship, the Warriors fell to East Hampton, 1-0. Though the postseason loss certainly stung, Contino said the game isn’t necessarily circled on the calendar for his team; they’ll just play it like any other match.
“We are going to go into each game with the right mindset,” he said. “We will take it one game at a time, and when we get to East Hampton, we will deal with them then.”