October 22, 2012
All through this week, Section III's boys soccer teams begin their post-season journey.
For most of them, it's a short trip, one game, maybe two games, and then it's over. For a fortunate sextet, it will lead to a championship banner, and perhaps a few of them will travel all the way to the final (four) destination in Middletown on the third weekend in November.
Hamilton knows that journey. Brian Latella's Emerald Knights again won it all in 2011, topping fellow power Chazy 1-0, and head into the 2012 sectional playoffs clearly thinking it could all happen again. Somehow, Hamilton, at 12-2-2, got the D-1 top seed ahead of archrival Poland, who went 13-0-3 and are ranked no. 2 in the state (behind Chazy, of course) but had to settle for the no. 2 seed.
It's still a well-balanced bracket, though, since no. 3 seed McGraw and no. 4 seed Cincinnatus are quite good, the Lions rising as high as no. 2 in the state earlier this fall, but now are placed back at no. 14. Fans of drama would like another Emerald Knights-Tornadoes clash, but it's no guarantee.
What is fairly certain is that the Class D bracket is incredibly lopsided. D-2's top seed, Old Forge, went 11-1-3, but it's hard to imagine them at the same level as Poland or Hamilton. Pay close attention to Faith Heritage, the no. 2 seed, who played against Class C foes all season and might find D-2 quite hospitable.
A full Class C tournament has 14 entrants, bridged around top seed Cooperstown and no. 2 seed Fabius-Pompey. Cooperstown, who lost in the 2011 final to Tully, has spent the entire autumn in a quest for atonement, and showed its intentions right before the playoff by scoring 16 goals in a game against overmatched Morrisville-Eaton.
But the Redskins did not get a break in the bracket, since Bishop Ludden, a fast-improving no. 8 seed, could await in the quarterfinals if it gets past Sauquoit Valley. Oh yeah, and the champs from Tully are still quite good and sitting at the no. 4 seed. And Manlius-Pebble Hill has the no. 5 seed. In a word, loaded.
By total contrast, Fabius-Pompey has to love its position, first playing Thousand Islands or Herkimer, with Lowville as a no. 3 seed. Most fun, though, would be a run from no. 6 seed Mount Markham, who has a scoring phenom in Tyler Plows, who once had seven goals in a game in September against M-E, for whom the punishment never seemed to end.
Is Westhill, in 2012, just like Skaneateles, in 2010, a perfect regular season followed by a run to the state Class B championship? The Warriors, 16-0 and led by the duo of Conor Powell and Barak BenYehuda, could get a tricky sectional quarterfinal against Marcellus if the Mustangs survive General Brown, but Clinton, the no. 4 seed, is not quite as strong as the state final four entry of a season ago.
Two groups of Lakers stand ready to challenge Westhill. Cazenovia, the no. 2 seed, won its first league title in 27 years with a deep roster that doesn't mind mixing it up and a fast-rising sophomore star in Tyler Modzeleski. No one played Westhill tougher in the regular season. Skaneateles will be heard from, too, a no. 3 seed whose main concern may be that it just doesn't get enough offensive production.
In Class A, Fowler has the season's best story, a poor school in a poor part of town that, with immigrant children and a lot of determination, went 14-1-1, got as high as no. 5 in the state rankings (they're now at no. 7) and earned the top seed.
The Falcons start out at Corcoran in the quarterfinals, playing against Indian River or Carthage, but a tough semifinal would follow against a Spartans team, whether it's defending champ ESM, again dangerously placed as a no. 4 seed, or New Hartford, who quietly conquered most of the Tri-Valley League.
It's also tough on the other side of the Class A bracket. Watertown, the no. 3 seed, is 14-1-1 and state-ranked, bent on proving its worth as it starts out with a quarterfinal against Whitesboro. Oh yeah, and it's J-D against CBA in the other quarterfinal.
Like Fowler, the no. 2 seed Brothers moved down from Class AA this fall, and Andrew DePerro, who has scored seven goals in two previous meetings against the Red Rams, could carry Joe Papaleo's guys to the summit.
Good luck trying to figure out Class AA. First F-M was in charge. Then Liverpool dominated in the middle of the season. Then Baldwinsville, the five-time champs, seemed primed for a six-pack. Then C-NS streaked late, only to lose to B'vile, who lost to Utica Proctor and Nottingham....you get the picture.
Six teams, at least, could win this thing. And it was Liverpool getting the good draw of the top seed and what should be a simple quarterfinal against Rome Free Academy or Henninger, while C-NS, as the no. 2 seed, can't complain about playing Corcoran, whom it just mashed 7-1 behind five goals from Bryan Sibble.
Maybe the good fortune will finally run out for B'ville, the no. 4 seed, who drew a Proctor side that beat them 2-1 on Oct. 13, though it is a home game, which helps the Bees a lot, even if it can't get back the mighty Alex Bono, who is a driving force behind that soccer revival on the SU hill.
As for F-M, can you ever remember Jeff Hammond's Hornets as a no. 6 seed? But that's the truth, as a shaky regular-season finish (two losses to Liverpool, among other things) leads them to no. 3 Nottingham, who won at F-M back in mid-September.