NORTH SALEM, N.Y.— North Salem’s boys soccer squad turned in a memorable 2016 campaign. The Tigers—bolstered by an unselfish and talented roster—captured the program’s first New York State title since 1993.

Now, however, that all seems like ancient history.

As North Salem kicked off its title defense this preseason, there was little to no talk about the year that was.

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“No one has said anything about winning states again,” said coach Ron Hendrie, who enters his 26th year as varsity coach and 30th with the program. “No one is wearing the state champ apparel from last year. I didn’t tell them not to do it—it’s not like we are afraid to talk about it. We just aren’t the same team as last year and none of the other teams are, either. I think the kids are very grounded.”

Rest assured, North Salem returns enough quality talent to make a repeat run at glory.

The first challenge will be acclimating to the Class B landscape. The Tigers’ enrollment increased, forcing them to bump up after competing in Class C the previous two seasons.

“Things look promising, but there’s a lot of luck along the way,” Hendrie said. “Sometimes, the ball bounces the right way. We are coming back with a good core and they have a great attitude like last year. They have worked extremely well during the preseason. They worked really hard, cheered for each other and have that team thing going on. There hasn’t been a single ego.”

Senior playmaker Devyn Sheth returns as the headliner for North Salem’s offense. He earned all-state honors in 2016. Michael Bossi, a versatile weapon who can play any position on the pitch, is another key returnee. Bossi buried the game-winning goal in last year’s state final, lifting the Tigers to a thrilling 2-1 double-overtime victory over World of Inquiry.

Other veteran impact players include Frank DiGiacomo (senior), Kirby Trageser (junior), Anthony D’Innocenzo (senior) and Mark Ribaudo (senior). All four have the ability to play multiple positions, which is a carryover theme for the Tigers.

“It’s hard to pin these guys down because they are all so versatile,” Hendrie said. “Last year, at the end-of-the-year awards dinner, other coaches said we were so hard to play because we didn’t have that one all-star guy that was scoring all the goals. Everyone was scoring and everyone was assisting.”

Expect more of the same in 2017.

The Tigers bring back three quality keepers in James Buzzetto (senior), Aeneas Eaton (junior) and Zach Cotter (junior). Buzzetto turned in an all-world performance in the 2016 state final, recording 16 saves to spearhead the defense.

A trio of promising players—Dylan Monaghan (junior), Chase Littenberg (senior) and Matt Mazurek (senior)—will look to make an immediate impact after suffering season-ending injuries in 2016. Monaghan has goal-scoring potential up top, while Mazurek has shined during the preseason. Dylan Starace (senior), Matt Schembri (senior) and Luke Devey (junior) are three other attacking players to keep an eye on.

In total, a whopping 59 players players showed up at tryouts to help the Tigers defend their state title. It was the biggest turnout in Hendrie’s 30 years with the program.

While talk of repeating as state champs has been mum, the Tigers do have a roadmap to follow. North Salem’s baseball team won back-to-back state crowns this past year.

“I think they know what’s out there and it could happen,” Hendrie said. “And I’m sure that’s going to be their goal—go as far as we can.”

For now, however, Hendrie’s group is focused on what truly made last year special: having fun with your teammates.

“Last year, the best part about it was getting that chance to have another practice,” Hendrie said. “It’s another week of playing soccer and being together. We were just having so much fun. They were such good kids. I really wanted it for them. So far it seems we have a lot of that coming back.”