The Empire Strikes Back isn’t headed back to the theatres any time soon, but it could play out on local fields as several fall programs seek to correct the way their seasons ended in 2009.
No Syracuse. No Kingston. Not even a trip to Mahopac for the Section championship. Rye’s stunning, last-second loss to Poughkeepsie in the 2009 Class A Section semifinals silenced Nugent Stadium as never before and caused reverberations that are felt to this day.
But this is a new year, and the latest model of gridiron warriors to sport the legendary Garnet and Black colors are itching to exact revenge on all who reveled in schadenfreude after their shocking playoff elimination.
“We’re definitely going to use that loss as motivation,” said senior Jack O’Callaghan, one of five captains. “But, as much as we’re seeking redemption, we’re trying to put it out of our mind. This is a different team with its own identity.”
Matt McReddie, Anthony Vitiello, Brian Pickup, and Connor Eck – entering his third season as the starting quarterback – are the remaining four captains, and each is armed with a year’s experience of battle in Class A. The Garnets made the leap last season after winning three of the previous four Class B State championships. The transition wasn’t always smooth – their overall winning streak (27 games) and consecutive victories against Section I opponents (59) both came to an end at Eastchester in September – but if the Poughkeepsie game had gone the other way, we could be talking four State titles in five years.
“It’s nice having that year of Class A play under our belts,” said O’Callaghan. “We were a little nervous to open in A last year because we didn’t know what to expect. But, we’re working harder now because we know it won’t be as easy as Class B. It’s coming together for us.”
Leading the way for Rye will be Eck, who O’Callaghan says has only gotten bigger, stronger, and better. The quarterback is considered far and away the best in the Section, and has shown great poise and leadership in the past along with a cannon arm. It’s frightening to think of what he has in store for his senior season.
The season kicks off September 11 at Sleepy Hollow. Rye’s home opener is September 24 versus Nyack. The Harrison game is the Garnets’ regular season finale. It’s at Nugent Stadium October 16 at 2 p.m.
In 2009, the Garnets were ranked No. 4 in the nation and finished with a sparkling record of 18-0-3. Despite the otherworldly results, Rye’s campaign came to a heartbreaking end when they lost in penalty kicks to Eastchester in the Section championship. Although they earned a share of the Section title, the loss prevented them from defending their State title.
To say Rye has a bitter taste in their mouths would be an understatement of grand proportions. Fortunately, the Garnets have the perfect antidote to wash that feeling out: 14 returning, hungry, and ticked-off seniors.
“The girls are pumped and everyone is working hard and trying their best,” said goalkeeper Tatiana Saunders, one of five captains. “There is so much talent and heart on this team. We are looking forward to exploiting everyone’s strengths, and hopefully having a successful year. Last year we took it for granted that we would do well, and eventually came up short. This year we will not make the same mistake!”
Catharine Greer, Carter Talgo, Maddie Chabot, and Lia Bellizzi round out the incredible group of captains. But even with all those seniors and the 20 returning players in all, the Garnets will be challenged by a difficult schedule, including Class AA schools like North Rockland, Arlington, East Fishkill, and John Jay, as well as a tilt with New Jersey’s Immaculate Heart Academy, which ranked as high as third in the country last year.
“With our returning seniors and successful past, we have very high expectations to live up to,” said Talgo. “The pressure is on this season with such a challenging schedule, and especially that huge target on our backs. I have no doubt that we will give our all. We can’t wait for the season to begin so we can live up to the reputation Rye soccer has created.”
The Garnets are in Massachusetts this weekend for preseason scrimmages against talented area teams. Head coach Rich Savage hopes it prepares them for the rigors of the coming year. They open the regular season September 11 at home against Arlington.
Rye’s 2009 boys’ campaign was a wild success, despite the way it ended against Byram Hills in the Class A Section semifinals. The Garnets hoisted the League championship over a loaded field of opponents, including Byram, and ended the year with a 9-4-5 record. Head coach Jared Small expects his team to be right back in the thick of things this fall.
“We’re focused less on our record, which will surely be dented from time to time by a very challenging set of opponents, than on establishing a trajectory that leads us to post-season success,” said Small. “For fours years, we’ve consistently been a top-four team amongst the 25 Class A teams, and we’re preparing to do everything we can to take it one step further and make a run at a Sectional championship.”
Seniors Brandon Robinson, Arber Xhema, and Buck Reynolds step into the roles of captains, each bringing three years of varsity know-how.
“We expect Brandon to continue as a vocal general in the middle of the park, Arber to transform three years of starting experience into a memorable senior campaign, and Buck to lead by doing what every striker is expected to do – put the ball in the net,” said Small. “In addition, Luis Del Pezo is a prominent member of our midfield who has he ability to make magic.”
The defensive corps is led by junior Ian Robinson, who was excellent as a sophomore, and also includes senior JP Barrett and juniors Devon DiPalma and Henry Gager.
We’ve got an interesting and versatile back four that reminds me in some ways of the 2008 group of Walter, O’Neill, Benincasa, and Lonergan,” said Small. “In goal is the talismanic keeper James Rimmer. He started for us in 2007 as a freshman and has some big wins on his resume. While Mike Linehan’s emergence as an All-Section caliber goalkeeper relegated Rimmer to the backup role in 2009, we believe whole-heartedly in James as our starter this season.”
After a preseason trip to the Boston area over Labor Day weekend, which includes four scrimmages against area teams and a trip to a Red Sox game, the Garnets open at home September 11 against Keio Academy.
Although Head Coach Emily Fitzgerald has not yet added to Rye’s gaudy State championship total – the Garnets won four between 2000 and 2007 – her 32-4-2 record in two years at the wheel speaks for itself. After being eliminated in the Section semifinals in 2008, Fitzgerald led Rye back the Section title game last year, where they fell to Lakeland, the eventual State champs.
“We would like to get back there, but we won’t get too ahead of ourselves,” said Fitzgerald. “We’re going to take it game by game with a team that plays as a unit. These girls have an amazing knack for knowing where their teammates are on the field. There is no one superstar here, they’re all equals.”
The Garnets did graduate a pair of tried and true superstars in Olivia Nabhan and Torie Stearns, but return seven starters including senior captains Rachel Chin, a sweeper, right back Michelle Mulhearn, and Kaitlin Campbell, the goalie. Emma Brinkman and Laurel Kennedy are also back, as is Annie VanWagenen, who gained valuable experience on the gold medal-winning Hudson Valley team at the Empire State Games this summer.
Rye’s season begins September 13 at Suffern, a team that defeated the Garnets 1-0 last year.
Rye’s volleyball program experienced a sea change in the offseason, with head coach Tim Tolve departing along with the 10 seniors who graduated from 2009’s 11-7 team.
Jason Friesen, the former JV coach, is now at the helm, along with senior captains India Scarfone and Rachel Gould. Natalie Owens, a junior, is the only other returning player for the Garnets, who welcome the addition of three more juniors and seven sophomores to the fold. Friesen coached many of the new players on his JV team, and is excited to be working with them again.
The 2009 team reached the Sectionals, where they upset Edgemont before falling to top-seeded Henry Hudson, but the past – in this case, at least – is not a predictor of the future. Friesen said it’s a rebuilding year, and that he hopes to see progress day-by-day and game-by-game.
“We’re going to play a scrappy game, keeping the ball going longer than our competitors to outlast them,” said Friesen, citing his team’s youth and lack of height. “It’s like a pyramid – as each girl improves, so goes the team.”
The nets go up September 11 in a tournament at Sleepy Hollow.
Katie Geoghegan and the twin tandem of Catie and Amanda McLaughlin, all seniors, headline the cast of 10 returning players for head coach Cari Caulway’s Garnets. Although the roster isn’t finalized, Rye will look to better their 7-7 finish from 2009.
League play begins September 14 at home against Ossining.
Girls’ Swimming and Diving
The Garnets enter the season as League 3 champions, after finishing 2009 with a perfect 7-0 record. Rye placed second at Sectionals and sent six girls to the State championships, but graduated three of those top swimmers among five seniors.
Rye boasts a diverse roster when it comes to age, with five middle school athletes, 10 freshmen, six sophomores, six juniors, and four seniors.
“Our team is a little smaller this year, but we have a talented group of girls and are looking forward to this season as well as doing well in our league,” said Kelly O’Neill, a senior. “Head coach Shannon Bolger and her assistant, Jaime Saracino, are great teachers and the team works well together.”
Bolger noted the Garnets are headlined by junior diver Coco Darelius, who has been a strong competitor since 7th grade, senior swimmers O’Neill and Shannon Toal, and sophomore sensation Melissa Fulenwider.
“Kelly is a powerful swimmer who competes in the 100 backstroke and the IM as well as several relays,” said Bolger. “She has raced at the State meet for three straight years and we expect great things from her. I can place Shannon anywhere and she’ll do great, but her strongest events are the 200 and 500 freestyle. Melissa is dominant in the 50 and 100 freestyle and is another athlete who succeeds in whatever is asked of her.”
The Garnets splash in September 20 versus Harrison at Louis M. Klein Middle School, which is Rye’s new home pool.
It’s a difficult prospect to improve on a season in which the boys’ and girls’ teams combined to go 19-1, but cross-country head coach Craig Sandhaus believes it’s in the cards for his Garnets.
The girls’ half of the team, consisting of 13 athletes, graduated just one senior from the undefeated 2009 squad and returns stalwarts Ellie Friedmann, Nagomi Ogura, Alison Mackay, Caitlin Hartnett, Kahea Mueller, Zoe Davitt, and Lindsey Hanley. The group is bolstered by the addition of freshman Libby Burke, as well as juniors Madeline Kinker and Jordan Delane.
While the boys’ team graduated the prolific Max Robinson, the 2009-10 RHS Athlete of the Year, the 29-man squad should not suffer much. Mason Curtis, Taylor Love, and Thomas Mayo-Smith are all back and ready to continue Rye’s tradition of excellence.
“I love the kids on this team,” said Sandhaus. “Very seldom do you get a group of both girls and guys who are so close. It’s like coaching a big family. Everyone gets along and encourages one another. We have pasta parties before major meets, and the support from parents is so strong that they’re always offering to host the dinner. It’s really unique.”
Rye’s first meet is September 14 at Briarcliff.
– Jim Byrne and Melanie Cane