SHRUB OAK, N.Y.— In 1997, Brian Lanzetta was a ball boy for the last Somers’ varsity boys soccer team to win a section title.
Fast forward 19 years and Lanzetta guided the Tuskers to a Section 1 Class A championship in his first season as head coach.
Freshman Drew Lasher scored the game-winning goal with just under four minutes remaining on a feed from sophomore Max Grell to propel the third-seeded Tuskers to a 1-0 win over defending champion Pearl River on Saturday, Oct. 29 at Lakeland High School.
“Max Grell had a nice pass to me and I was just able to maintain the ball, take a nice touch, shoot and score,” Lasher said. “You just have to go at it like any other game. You’ve got to go out, try your hardest and do the best you can. This is amazing. It’s still trying to sink into my head that I scored the winning goal.”
Lasher was called up from the JV seven games into the season.
“Given the opportunity, he can bury it and find the back of the net,” Lanzetta said of Lasher. “I think in the JV program, he scored like 11 goals in the first four or five games. The JV guys were winning 7-0 or 8-0. I was like, ‘Alright, let me call this kid up and give him some experience.’ In time, I was like, Let’s get this kid on the field. It shows you there. One opportunity and he can take it.”
The Tuskers had their chances to break through prior to Lasher’s goal. They dominated much of the possession throughout the game against the top-seeded Pirates.
“I felt like [a goal] was going to come, but I was also nervous of giving up something weak,” Lanzetta said. “We prayed to the seven gods of soccer and finally it goes Somers’ way.”
Senior captain Jack Maher headed the ball off the post early in the second half. Sophomore Jonathan Riina was knocked down in the box late in the second half, but a foul wasn’t called.
“From the kickoff we knew this is it — that’s our mentality every game,” Maher said. “As seniors it feels even more special since it’s our last year. In my sophomore year we came close, making the semis. Last year was a little bit of a disappointment, but finally to win the section, it just feels amazing.”
Somers limited Pearl River’s scoring opportunities with a physical defense led by senior captains Evan Kieltyka, Luke Bugoni, Maher and goaltender Kenny Kurtz, who made numerous clutch saves throughout the playoffs.
“He’s been there all season and has let up a very little amount of goals,” Maher said of Kurtz.
Senior Alex Elconin and junior Alex Piazza were also key players defensively during the title run.
Combining with a strong senior group, a number of underclassmen like Riina, Grell, sophomore Lucas Fecci and Lasher were vital to the Tuskers’ success.
“You see a freshman scoring the game-winning goal in a section final,” Maher said. “Our younger guys have really stepped it up this year and they’ve really been pushing the team forward.”
The future is no doubt promising for the Tuskers.
“At one point there were four sophomores on the field and one freshman,” Lanzetta said. “The future is bright. The seniors back these guys and they motivate these guys. They all play a solid role on the team and they’re like a family. The power of positivity has been our motto. If we get a goal given up, we just go back the other way and go at them.”
To get to the finals, the Tuskers pulled off a stunner.
Trailing second-seeded Byram Hills 1-0, Maher was fouled in the box with just 40 seconds left in regulation and he sent the game to overtime with a goal on a penalty kick.
“It was pretty much just the last effort in the game,” Maher said. “I saw the ball going out of bounds and I wasn’t going to let that happen. I dribbled into the box and was lucky enough to get fouled from behind and I stepped up and finished.”
The teams battled through two scoreless overtime periods and Somers advanced by edging the host Bobcats 4-2 on penalty kicks on Oct. 26. Senior Andrew Circle clinched it by making the final penalty kick.
Kurtz made two huge diving saves during the Bobcats’ first two penalty kicks.
“It’s nerve racking heading into a penalty kick situation, but as a goalkeeper you have to get into a zone quickly and put your mind and body at ease—pushing away any last-minute nerves,” Kurtz said. “I mentally calm myself down and physically try and relax my muscles. Then I fully focus on the kicker—letting them see I am pumped to be in this situation and try to put the pressure on them.”
Kurtz said he sometimes can get a feel for which was the penalty kick taker is going with his shot.
“Whether it’s through eye contact, body language or if they open or close their hips to indicate which side they might favor,” Kurtz explained. “At times it’s definitely a guessing game because some shooters can hide where they are going to place their shot really well.”
Maher, Elconin and senior Ronan Brady also converted on penalty kicks.
“We practiced penalty kicks every single day since sectionals started, so we were prepared for that,” Lanzetta said.
Maher was clutch throughout the playoff run, as he buried penalty kicks in three of the four playoff games.
“Jack has been a huge contributor to our team all season and is a big factor in the midfield, both offensively and defensively,” Kurtz said. “He has a high soccer IQ, superb skills and great leadership qualities. We play on the same club team, so I’ve come to expect nothing else from a player of his caliber.”
Brady made a big stop late in double overtime on a Byram shot that looked destined for the back of the net.
Byram Hills’ Jack Beer gave the Bobcats a 1-0 lead on a penalty kick late in the first half.
“We have faced tough opponents this season and have never backed down. That’s what I love about our team and senior leadership,” Kurtz said. “They’re focused, committed and determined to battle through challenging games until the final whistle and we come out on top. At halftime when we were down by a goal, I told the team that we weren’t ending our season on a game like this. We worked too hard to lose in the semis on a penalty kick.”
The Tuskers stormed out to an unbeaten 11-0 start and a spot in the state rankings this season. They only lost two games, both to Lakeland, during the regular season.
“I’m still trying to comprehend that we’re section champs,” Kurtz said. “These guys work so hard. It’s well deserved for us.”
Somers lost to Beacon in the first round of sectionals last season, but under Lanzetta the Tuskers have experienced quite the turnaround.
Somers (16-2-2) continued its magical season when it took on Section 4’s Vestal in the Class A regional semifinals on Nov. 2 at Lakeland High School.
“These guys put the work in themselves,” Lanzetta said. “I don’t really come here and make them better players. But I feel it is my job to make them believe that they can do anything on the field and off the field. These seniors, they believe they can win and I hope that goes forward with them in life. That they can believe they can do anything in life. That they can become doctors or dentists or architects. I was very family-oriented and I put a lot of time in with these guys. We did dinners, movie nights and a lot of stuff together. They always have each other’s backs on and off the field.”