Nov 24, 2010 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
For a long time, followers of the Skaneateles boys soccer team had to watch, helpless, as other programs, such as Westhill and Marcellus, achieve the highest honors, often at the Lakers’ expense.
They also bore witness as a wide range of Skaneateles teams – from cross country in the fall to ice hockey in the winter to lacrosse in the spring – piled up championships of every variety.
Even this September, as the 2010 season began, this particular group of Lakers, with talent everywhere on its roster and particularly high expectations, was overshadowed as the football coaching debut of Tim Green drew all the headlines.
Everything has changed now. That’s what going 22-0 and winning its first-ever state Class B championship will do.
This was not an overnight transformation. Skaneateles won a sectional title two years ago with many of the same players that would blaze through this autumn, and were in the finals again in 2009, only to lose to Marcellus.
It was that 2-1 defeat to the Mustangs, more than anything else, that would give the Lakers its primary motivation for this season – even if it had no idea just how great it would end up.
Head coach Kirk Atwater, along with assistants Aaron Moss, Jon Dower and Pete O’Connor, had most of the pieces firmly in place. Up front, a quartet of attackers – seniors Kevin Rice, Jeff Baldetti and Spencer Parker, plus junior A.J. RIchichi – brought a deadly combination of speed and skill.
A deep group of midfielders, which included Jeff Higman, Ryan Farrell, Alex Brownlee and Jared Amory, would offer underrated support for that front line. And in the back, sweeper Mike Richards, flanked by Tim Lewis and Zach Brownlee, offered expert defensive work.
The only real question was in goal. Prior to this season, Trevor Diamond had not played much there, but he used his athleticism and poise to fit in quickly and turn into a first-rate keeper.
Starting with the Sept. 3 opener against Homer, the Lakers roared to a 5-0 start, its only real scare coming from Westhill Sept. 14, a 4-3 decision where the absence of Lewis, and the fact that Diamond was still getting used to his net duties, provided a thriller.
Then the Lakers stepped up its competition by beating two Class AA powers in the inaugural Finger Lakes Invitational on Sept. 24-25. In overtime, it knocked off Cicero-North Syracuse 2-1 (Farrell got the game-winner), then it beat West Genesee 3-1.
This helped Skaneateles rise to the no. 1 spot in the state Class B rankings, where it would stay the rest of the season – but more magic lay ahead.
The Lakers were 13-0 going into its Oct. 16 match with CBA. Trailing 2-0, with the perfect season about to slip away, Skaneateles got two goals in 20 seconds (from Baldetti and Rice), then won 3-2 when Baldetti converted again with 15:30 left.
That was the last big obstacle in a 16-0 regular season where the Lakers averaged nearly five goals per game while only allowing 22 for the entire two-month campaign. But now the post-season lay ahead.
It was fitting that two all-too-familiar rivals, Marcellus and Westhill, provided the first obstacles in the Section III tournament. However, the Lakers easily cleared both hurdles, dismissing the Mustangs in the quarterfinals and the Warriors in the semifinals by equal 3-0 margins.
The sectional final on Nov. 5, though, looked to be a much larger hurdle. Clinton arrived at the title game in Chittenango with the same 18-0 mark the Lakers possessed, and with a terrific defense as its calling card, many thought the Warriors could shut the Skaneateles machine down.
Yet every Laker remembered the heartache of the final in ’09, and they went out and dominated Clinton much more than the 2-0 margin would indicate. That made it 19 in a row, and the state playoffs beckoned.
In the regional final Nov. 13, Skaneateles exorcised another long-standing demon. On the same Oneonta grass where it lost two years earlier in another state title bid, the Lakers buried Trumansburg 4-0, Richichi gaining three assists and Rice finding the net twice.
All that was left now was the state final four, played in a new venue in Middletown. It was a long trip the Lakers did not mind taking, as long as it brought home the most hardware.
Sure enough, Skaneateles jumped all over Akron in the Nov. 19 semifinal, Rice putting together two goals and one assist. And though the stingy defense finally gave up a goal in the playoffs, it didn’t matter. By a 4-2 margin, the Lakers made it to the final step.
That meant a clash with Burke Catholic on Nov. 20, and as usual Skaneateles went right to the front, Baldetti pouncing on a mistake from the Burke goalie on Richichi’s long shot.
Though it wouldn’t get anymore, none more was required. Twice, Burke would see the ball clang off the Skaneateles post. Diamond, now fully confident in the net, made every other save down the stretch, and the big prize was attained in a 1-0 decision.
To expect it all again might be a major stretch, since 11 seniors will graduate. But they depart in the best way possible, having helped Skaneateles soccer escape the multiple shadows it once faced to stand alone, at the top – and done with perfection.