Expectations are as high as ever at Rye, as the football, field hockey, and girls’ soccer teams have combined to amass four State championships in the past two years. Nevertheless, the Garnet programs keeping chugging along matter-of-factly, looking to prolong what is already an unprecedented run.
The road from Nugent Stadium all the way to the Carrier Dome has been a well-traveled one for the better part of this decade. The Garnets find themselves in the midst of a full-fledged Golden Era.
Rye’s success in Class B has been otherworldly. They’ve won three of the last four State championships – including back-to-back titles in 2007 and 2008 – and are now tied for the most in New York. Since the beginning of 2003, Rye has posted a 71-3 record and captured six straight Section championships. They ride into the 2009 season on a 25-game winning streak, with 57 consecutive victories against Section 1 opponents.
A new epoch begins September 11 however, as the Garnets complete the leap from Class B to A. They’ll be immediately put to test at home in a league crossover game against a very talented Ossining team.
“There is a lot of excitement about this game and we’re looking forward to the challenge,” said head coach Dino Garr. “It’s a great opportunity for us to show what we can do as a team. Fortunately we’ll be at home and that will be a big advantage against a great program that has been successful for a number of years now.”
If Rye is to translate past success into Class A victories, they’ll need their captains to lead the way. Taking over those roles are seniors Cole McCormack, Charlie Rollins, and Brendan Nagle, and junior Connor Eck, the second-year starting quarterback.
“It’s an unbelievable honor just putting on the Garnet uniform,” said McCormack, a hard-running halfback, who credited the coaching – from Garr to line coach Connor Dowling to trainer Matt Tauber – as a the major reason for Rye’s continued success. “And it’s a privilege in itself to play under coach Garr and Tom Maloney. The whole thing of being captain for the Rye Garnets? I remember looking up at the captains when I was in elementary school. It gives you goosebumps.”
Garr noted that his captains “know what they have to do” to pick up from where the 25 graduated seniors left off. In addition to the captains, players likely to make an impact this year are seniors T.J. Storino, David Shaughnessy and Brian Levinson, and juniors Matt McReddie and Jack O’Callaghan.
As for their opponent September 11, at 7 p.m., McCormack says the Garnets are ready.
“We have all the respect in the world for them and are preparing for a dogfight,” he said. “Everyone has this nervous energy, but it’s a good energy because we’re all excited. There is a winning tradition here that we do not want to lose.”
What’s good news for the Garnets is bad news for everybody else. Rye returns nine of 11 starters from last year’s Class A State championship team, including New York State Player of the Year and All-American Lia Bellizzi.
Bellizzi, a junior, led the team in points with 21 goals and 13 assists, and will have to pick up the slack left by her partner in crime, Alex Rimmer. Fortunately, she’ll be joined by standout goaltender Tatiana Saunders, also a junior, and senior captains Erin McCarty and Lauren McRedmond. They’re among a core of players who propelled the Garnets to an 18-4-1 record in 2008.
“We’re excited for the season to start after last year’s run,” said head coach Rich Savage, the 2008 New York State Class Coach of the Year. “The key will be chemistry, staying healthy, and replacing Rimmer, who scored half of our goals. But we’re definitely pumped because we have leaders who are strong on and off the field.”
Savage pointed to Rye’s postseason experience as a major advantage going forward. The Garnets outscored their six playoff opponents by a margin of 16-2, and only seemed to strengthen with each victory.
“The composure we gained is very valuable, as well as the maturity of not taking anything for granted and assuming nothing,” said Savage. “Those traits will be important as we transition from being a team that everyone thought was good, but didn’t realize just how good until we developed. Now we have a target on our backs and opponents will look to us as a benchmark. We have to be mentally and physically prepared for every game.”
Rye began the season by winning the Hall of Fame Tournament in Oneonta with two 1-0 victories. Their next contest is September 11, at John Jay-Cross River.
Going 40-15-6 over three seasons will put you back on the soccer map, and that’s exactly what has happened for head coach Jared Small’s Garnets. It’s a new dawn for the program however, as the players who spearheaded that run have all graduated. Small admits it will be difficult to measure up to last year’s 15-4-1 mark, especially with a stronger schedule, but he remains hopeful nonetheless.
“We’re looking forward to the season,” said Small. “It’s an entirely new challenge from the past three seasons. We have a talented group coming back and they’re ready to step up and get the chance.”
Among the 14 returnees are senior captains Tim Lonergan and Juan Chang.
“I’m very pleased with what they’ve done in the offseason,” said Small. They set the tone and got the team together for training sessions and have really just been great role models. They’ve met my expectations and are getting in shape and becoming better players.”
Small also put the spotlight on Brandon Robinson and Arber Xhema, both juniors, and sophomore Ian Robinson. The coach said they are counting on Ian Robinson – who played about 40 minutes a game as a freshman – to be one of the center backs along with Lonergan. As for Brandon Robinson and Xhema, Small noted that both have looked great in recent months.
The Garnets’ difficult schedule includes two contests with Byram Hills, and battles with Keio Academy and Class AA teams Mamaroneck, Horace Greeley, and John Jay-Cross River. They also have a bout with New York City powerhouse MLK, who will be looking for revenge after Rye upset them at Nugent Stadium last season. In addition, the Garnets have two contests against Class A State finalist Harrison, the rival who upended Rye in the Section quarterfinals.
Like the girls’ team, the Garnets kicked off the season on a high note by winning the Hall of Fame Tournament in Oneonta, not allowing a shot on goal in the final. They play Horace Greeley September 12, in the home opener.
Forget the way last year ended. Rye’s Class B Section semifinal loss to Putnam Valley was a mere hiccup in what has been a decade of dominance. The Garnets have won four State titles since 2000 – their last came in 2007 – and finished 2008 a superb 18-1-1. Under the direction of first-year head coach Emily Fitzgerald, Rye did not allow a goal until late in October.
“We’re definitely building on what we started last year,” said Fitzgerald. “We have a tough schedule beginning at Lakeland September 10, and we lost a lot of seniors and talent on defense. But, we’ve been working hard in the offseason and are excited to have a younger team to mold in the Rye tradition.”
The explosive tandem of seniors Olivia Nabhan and Torie Stearns are Fitzgerald’s captains, a pair of players she says are great leaders and motivators who hold teammates accountable. They’ve been working together to teach the younger kids, and their enthusiasm is contagious.
Among the youth movement are sophomores Annie VanWagenen, Emma Brinkman, and G.G. Fitzgerald. Their coach is happy to see them following in the footsteps of Nabhan and Stearns.
“We need to come out strong,” said Fitzgerald. “We’re going to have our ups and downs because we lost eight seniors who were amazing. They taught me a lot in my first year here and I couldn’t have asked for a better senior group.”
Eight seniors headline Rye’s returning volleyball cast, and it’s the group head coach Tim Tolve points to when he talks about the promise of the 2009 season.
Samantha Lee and Rebecca Choron, both of whom earned All-League status for their efforts as juniors, will lead the way. They’ll be joined by fellow seniors Molly Smalt, Jamie DiEdwards, Patricia Sganga, Alda Pontes, Alexis Ehrlich, and Meredith Siefert. Tolve said that most of the girls played competitive club volleyball in the offseason, and that seven of the seniors attended the Rhode Island Volleyball Camp as a team over the summer. The coach also praised Smalt, who tore her ACL last year, for putting in countless hours to rehabilitate her knee for the upcoming season.
The Garnets finished 2008 a .500 squad, but pushed a strong Byram Hills team to the brink of elimination in the Class B Section quarterfinal. Rye seemed primed for the upset when they stunned the Bobcats by scratching and clawing their way to a 2-1 lead in the match. Byram recovered, winning the final two games to escape with the victory.
Rye’s first serve of the season takes place September 9 at Briarcliff.
The cast of Rye’s tennis team may be young, but they have experience. Making up the bulk of head coach Cari Caulway’s squad are a group of sophomores who earned their stripes on varsity in 2008.
“We’ll have pretty strong lineup,” said Caulway. And it’s promising that eight of my players, five of whom were in the lineup every day last year, will be around for another two years after this.”
If the Garnets are to have success this season they will rely on their veterans, including senior captains Angie Cho and Devon Weil. Caulway refers to Weil as her “Steady Eddy”, because of her penchant for consistently coming up with a win at second doubles last year. Caulway also looks forward to improved play from twin juniors, Katie and Amanda McLaughlin.
Claire Pfister and Jessica Jahnke, both sophomores, were Caulway’s No. 1 doubles team last season. The coach is intrigued by their potential, and even admitted one could take the No. 1 singles spot vacated by Julia Fiala.
The season continues September 11, at Harrison.