By Bill Landon
Last year Kings Park needed to win the final game of the regular season to make the postseason, but after two overtime periods that left the game resulting in a tie against Hauppauge, the Kingsmen were held back from making that playoff appearance — by a single point.
But that was then, and the Kings Park boys soccer team has shaken off the stalemate and is looking to make strides toward a better start to the season and not leave a postseason hope hanging in the balance. With nine returning starters, the chance of achieving that goal increases this season.
“We lost seven seniors to graduation, but what’s great is that we have those returning starters, which is tremendous,” Kings Park head coach Bill Hender said. “They all had big minutes last year, and our bench guys are also tremendous and I think they’re much stronger than they were last year, so we have a lot more depth.”
Because of reduced enrollment, Kings Park moved down to League V as a Class A team this season but won’t escape its nemesis because Hauppauge also dropped down in the division standings.
“We’re considered a Class A school now, which is good,” the head coach said. “When we go into the playoffs we won’t go against the Brentwoods, which have four times as many kids as we do, so it’ll be a little bit more fair for us.”
He said he’ll be leaning on Eoghan McGovern, Liam Thompson and Matt Anderer to steer the ship, but said he’s hoping junior Connor Brady can contribute some guidance.
“He really turned it on in the second half of last season,” Hender said. “In a game against Eastport-South Manor he scored two goals in a span of about 48 seconds — they were both beautiful shots.”
Thompson, a two-year varsity center back, said he thinks his team has its best chance to pick off Hauppauge this year.
“We’ve always been close with Hauppauge — we’ve always been right there but never actually made it over the hump — we’ve always wanted to beat them,” he said. “I think we have it this year with this team — we have returning guys and we’ve all been best friends forever, so we’re excited.”
Senior center midfielder Robbie Catoir agreed with Thompson in that the Kingsmen’s pros this season could help them get the better of the team who ended their last season early.
“It makes us hungrier,” Catoir said. “We’ll have to work on our communication to start, but Hauppauge is still the team to beat.”
Defensively, the team returns three out of the four core from the back line.
Guarding the net will be starting goalie Nicolas VanDuesen, who didn’t see action last year due to an injury, but is now at full strength.
“I’m most pleased with our defense,” McGovern said. “I think we have to focus on just scoring goals. We’ll see once the games start up if we can finish.”
Hender agreed his team’s defense is a force to be reckoned with, pointing to McGovern as the biggest driving force to back up his claim.
“We have a three-year All-Conference player in Eoghan McGovern, and I think he’s the best center back in the county — he’s that good,” the head coach said. “Other coaches have made comments about how good he is. And Alex Graci is a junior who came in and gave us a lot of minutes in a lot of different positions last year, so he’s looked great throughout training camp this year. He’s really come into his own.”
Kings Park will play a pair of nonleague games, against Wyandanch and Shoreham-Wading River, before its season opener at home against Rocky Point Sept. 6 at 6:30 p.m.