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Reed Massaro

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Andrew McDonnell squeezes between two Ward Melville players to gain possession of the ball in a game last season. File photo by Desirée Keegan

With a talented sophomore class, the Smithtown West boys’ soccer team will rely more heavily on its underclassmen this season to fill the shoes of the 12 seniors lost to graduation.

“I think the biggest challenge for the boys is that we’re very talented, we just have our talents spread out through different grade levels,” 14-year head coach Tom Lips said. “We have really good soccer players, we just have to figure it all out. It’s very new right now.”

Aaron Siegel sends the ball into play in a game against Ward Melville last season. File photo by Desirée Keegan
Aaron Siegel sends the ball into play in a game against Ward Melville last season. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Last year, the Bulls made it to the Suffolk County semifinals after winning the League III title for the third consecutive season. Although the coach and his teammates thought the 5-2-1 team had the potential to go father, Lips thinks fatigue played a factor.

“It’s a lot of soccer games in a short period of time, so when we entered the playoffs I felt the kids ran out of gas a little bit,” he said. “It was generally the same lineup and the same group basically played every game and most of the minutes, and that can build up after a while.”

Which is why the Bulls are building on their athleticism. Despite being consistent over the last few years, finishing the 2014-15 season with a 14-2 record, and the 2013-14 season at 18-1-1, the extra push to continue a strong record will help the Bulls go deeper into the postseason.

“We had a really good session [on Monday] and another on Saturday,” three-year starter and retuning goalkeeper Aaron Siegel said of practices so far, despite lacking in leadership early on. “In my three years on varsity it was the first time we had about 25 of the 28 kids run the two mile in under 14 minutes, and we had a bunch of kids run it in under 13 minutes; we look very fit and very strong coming into the season.”

The senior also noted that a lot of the sophomore additions bring size and skill to the team.

Brandon Erny maintains control of the ball in a game against Ward Melville last season. File photo by Desirée Keegan
Brandon Erny maintains control of the ball in a game against Ward Melville last season. File photo by Desirée Keegan

“A lot of them are physically big or athletic, but a lot of them are also pretty soccer-smart,” he said. “They know what to do with the ball — they know how to play. They don’t just try to run into people, they actually move the ball and get it going.”

Leading the team this season, will be senior captains Reed Massaro and Brandon Erny.

Of Massaro, a three-year returner, Lips said the defenseman has made some great strides over the last two years, and expects him to have his best year. For Erny, a three-year starter, Lips said he’ll be used as a utility player, moving to wherever the team needs him most in a given game.

“He’s talented enough to play everywhere,” the head coach said.

Also returning to the team is Andrew McDonnell, former captain Matt McDonnell’s younger brother. He’ll be a junior this season, and Lips said he’s coming through the program well.

“He did a nice job last year before he got hurt and then we lost him in the playoff run, which was impactful, because things were pretty solid with him in the middle of the field,” he said. “But I expect Andrew to have a very, very good year at midfield and possibly forward.”

Harrison Weber edges ahead of a Ward Melville player to gain possession in a game last year. File photo by Desirée Keegan
Harrison Weber edges ahead of a Ward Melville player to gain possession in a game last year. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Senior midfielder Anthony Gibbons will also be looked to for his experience and talents.

Gibbons thinks that the younger athletes bring new energy to the team and said that it didn’t take long for the new group to begin to gel, but Lips thinks that his three-year returner has an energy all his own.

“Gibbons has high energy and we hope he makes some tremendous strides,” Lips said. “He had a wonderful season last year and he could be more the physical and emotional leader of the team. I think he’s going to make a great impact.”

Being physically fit to have an edge on other teams, the Bulls believe stamina wont be an issue as the team pushes for a fourth consecutive League III title.

Smithtown West will host Ward Melville on Sept. 2 in a nonleague game, and will travel to Smithtown East on Sept. 7 for a League III matchup against its crosstown rival.

“We have to get tactically ready for school-ball season because it’s a more physical, more direct game, and we have to keep drilling that into the young kids and keep getting more fit, because that’s really going to help us in the long run,” Siegel said. “ This year I don’t think there’s going to any let off. Ending my high school career never losing that League III title would be a big thing for us to keep our name — we want to maintain the legacy of the school. I think for the fourth straight year, the league title will be coming back to Smithtown West.”

 

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Smithtown West senior forward John Kazubowski kicks the ball behind him toward the goal. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Smithtown West senior forward Max Mohrmann pushes the ball forward toward East Islip’s net. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Smithtown West senior forward Max Mohrmann pushes the ball forward toward East Islip’s net. Photo by Desirée Keegan

By Desirée Keegan

John Kazubowski said he normally doesn’t score goals, but if he told you that Tuesday, he’d be lying.

The Smithtown West senior forward scored a hat trick to lead the No. 3-ranked Bulls, 4-2, over No. 14 East Islip in the first round of the Class AA playoffs.

Just over 10 minutes into the first half, Kazubowski went to knock the ball deeper into East Islip’s territory from the 30-yard line, only to hit the top of the crossbar and bounce into the right corner of the net for a good goal and the 1-0 lead.

In shock, the forward threw his hands up in disbelief as the crowd erupted.

“I don’t usually shoot during the season a lot, so I thought, ‘Hey, might as well,’” he said. “I had space so I took it and it came out nice, I guess.”

Minutes later, an East Islip player escaped defenders and on a one-on-one with the goalkeeper, knocked it into the right corner to tie the game.

Smithtown West head coach Tom Lips said that since his team was going against a low seed, the other team knew they had to give it their all if they wanted to progress through the bracket.

Smithtown West senior midfielder Matt McDonnell keeps the ball in play. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Smithtown West senior midfielder Matt McDonnell keeps the ball in play. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“They have everything to loose, but more importantly, we’ve had two starters out of our consistent lineup,” he said of junior defender Reed Massaro and sophomore midfielder Andrew McDonnell who were both injured in the last game of the regular season. “We’ve had no injuries until the last game of the season and this is our first game playing without them, so it obviously affected us greatly — especially in our back line where we’re very thin defensively.”

Despite Kazubowski scoring again in the eighth minute off an assist from senior midfielder and co-captain Matt McDonnell, East Islip tied it up, 2-2, off a foul kick four minutes later.

“I don’t think we rose emotionally to the occasion,” Lips said. “I think the other team outworked us. Do I think we’re a better team? Yes, but they outworked us. We have talent, it’s just we weren’t cohesive, pretty much played their style and it’s a compliment to them. We just weren’t good today.”

The Bulls opened up the second half with an early attempt, but couldn’t capitalize, which happened multiple times throughout the game.

“We came a little not awake in the first half and it was a tough one, but we rallied through the second half,” Kazubowski said. “We have to play better in the next round if we want to do something big this season. We have to wake up for the next round and produce something better.”

At the 21:53 mark, the senior forward proved he couldn’t be stopped, when he grabbed a tipped rebound in front of the box and faked out the keeper, shooting the ball into an empty right side for the 3-2 advantage.

Smithtown West's Nathan Biondi maintains possession as East Islip defenders swarm around him. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Smithtown West’s Nathan Biondi maintains possession as East Islip defenders swarm around him. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“We didn’t play our best, but we definitely came back after they scored a goal or two and pushed in the end,” Matt McDonnell said. “I think we were physically a little more fit toward the end of the game, which helped us.”

With 15:09 left on the clock, McDonnell took a penalty kick shot after a teammate was blocked on a breakaway, and he shot it past a diving East Islip goalkeeper for the 4-2 win.

“I think we were just able to persevere,” he said. “We had a few missed plays and couldn’t finish a few opportunities, but we worked hard and got back in it. If we come together as a team we can go far.”

Smithtown West hasn’t lost a game since Sept. 16, when the team fell to crosstown rival Smithtown East, 1-0, and are now 14-1-1. The Bulls move on to host No. 11 Half Hollow Hills West on Friday at 2 p.m.

No. 16 East lost its outbracket game at home against No. 17 Sachem North, 3-1, on Oct. 24.