By Desirée Keegan
Rafael Celanti started off this season as a center midfielder, and after the decision to move him to center forward, the sophomore’s coaches — and the rest of the Newfield boys’ soccer team — are reaping the benefits.
Celanti repeatedly came through for his team after the change, and helped the Wolverines make history. He scored early for his second game-winning goal of the postseason in a 2-0 victory over previously undefeated Hauppauge (15-1-3) Oct. 31, which sent his team to the Suffolk County finals for the first time in school history.
“He’s been a superstar,” Newfield’s 12-year head coach Jamie Santiago said of Celanti. “He’s doing everything a center forward does — he holds the plays up, he scores goals, he’s so elusive there. We wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for him.”
Celanti scored in the eighth minute of the contest when he blasted a shot into the bottom left corner.
“I saw the center back coming inside, and he backed away and thought the goalie was going to pick it up, so I ran and got to it first,” the sophomore said. “I’m speechless. Newfield never made it this far and I’m happy to be part of it.”
The Wolverines battled through its 16-1-1 season tallying nine shutouts with a handful of come-from-behind wins. Senior center back John Alves knew what it would take to get the Wolverines further than any Newfield team had been before.
“I told the boys it’s going to be a battle, but it’s just going to be another game of soccer,” he said. “I told them we need to settle down and play our game, and we scored early, which helped our emotions.”
After several pushes made by Hauppauge to even the score, sophomore center attack and midfielder Nick Gomez put the game out of reach when he headed in a free kick by senior Mike DiDominico.
“It’s an indescribable feeling,” he said of the team making history, adding he was also thankful that his coach didn’t listen to him when he asked for a substitute to get him off the field right before the free kick. “It felt great to make it in and extend the lead for my team.”
Santiago said he was proud of his team’s achievements this season, which so far include nabbing the League III title and making it to the Class AA finals after not making the semis in 17 years.
“These guys have been through so much all season long,” he said. “There’s been peaks and valleys of emotions and to be the first team to make the finals is historic, and I couldn’t be more proud of everyone and their effort. It’s a joyous occasion for all of us.”
Santiago also credited Alves, the team’s leader on the back line. Sophomore goalkeeper Loui Chen made several diving, quick-reaction saves to maintain the clean sheet. He finished with eight saves.
No. 3 Newfield will face No. 4 Brentwood in the finals at Diamond in the Pines in Coram Nov. 4 at 7 p.m.
While Santiago said Brentwood is a program the Wolverines aspire to be like, Alves said his team has the right mindset to continue to make history.
“This season’s been a war, and we’ve battled the entire time to come out on top,” he said. “The emotions are crazy right now. I’m happy to finally do something for the school — put ourselves on the map. I tell my teammates to fight for the person next to you and play as hard as you can, and I’m confident we can continue to battle to reach new heights. We’re here to play.”