SHRUB OAK, N.Y.— Three of the summer leagues local youngsters can compete in are field hockey, boys soccer and girls soccer. It all began when Lakeland field hockey coach Sharon Sarsen got an idea from Hudson Valley Lacrosse Hall of Fame member Frank Vitolo.
Sarsen, who is also a member of that HOF, runs the Hudson Valley Summer Field Hockey League that started back in 2002 and is now in its 15th season.
“I started it after watching my co-worker Frank Vitolo run a summer league for lacrosse at Van Cortlandtville Elementary School,” Sarsen said. “I saw how the kids participated in an off-season event and wanted the same for the field-hockey players.”
There is a 14-team varsity division, a four-team JV/modified division and four-team open division in the HVSFL. The league was held at Putnam Valley from 2002-2012, then Walter Panas from 2013-2015 and is now at Lakeland.
“Not only do kids and coaches get a jump start on their fall season, but they get another experience with the game,” Sarsen said. “They get to play with and against players with different skills and strengths and get to experiment with new tactics with low risk. Every time they touch the ball, with good guidance, they will improve. It is also a great time to hang out with their friends and teammates.”
Like Sarsen learned from Vitolo, Lakeland boys soccer coach Tim Hourahan learned from Sarsen and formed his own league in 2008 after staging friendlies the previous year.
Hourahan’s league is an eight-team varsity league based at Lakeland though it did play at Walter Panas last summer because of construction of a new track at LHS.
“The biggest reason I started this league was listening to and watching my co-worker coach Sarsen,” Hourahan said. “I saw how it was really a great way to get kids together in a competitive environment. During my first few years of coaching at Lakeland before this league I would meet my players two or three times a week for what we used to call ‘open- training sessions.’”
While those training sessions are valuable, Hourahan still runs them for his team, it wasn’t quite the same as playing in a league.
“And as great as that was, we were not under the lights at 8:30 with the music blasting and scoreboard running and keeping score in a game refereed by two Section 1 high school referees,” Hourahan said. “The chance to get kids in that type of competitive environment, albeit shorter games, has really sped up our off-seasons. We have been able to try kids in different spots and have our teams play different formations to see what mixture may work best for the new team.”
Lakeland girls soccer coach Jon Hourahan then started his summer league in 2009, which is now in its eighth season, after he saw how successful the boys league was, with help from current Putnam Valley and former Somers girls soccer coach Keenan Deegan.
“There were so many teams interested and always looking,” Jon Hourahan said. “So between Keenan Deegan and myself, he was like, ‘Are you interested, can you get teams?’ And we just started knocking around and there was enough interest so that’s how it got started.”
Jon Hourahan said that his team playing in a league during the summer is especially an invaluable experience for this upcoming campaign.
“A lot of my team is made up of a lot of incoming ninth-graders so it’s just an earlier look, just to get touches on the ball, just to see what it’s like at the next level,” Jon Hourahan said. “It’s not about wins or losses. We do keep records but for me it’s just about everyone gets some playing time and getting better every day.”
The girls soccer league is a six-team varsity league at Putnam Valley after originally starting at Lakeland but in two years when construction at the high-school fields are done the hope is to expand the league.
“Next year both Lakeland and Panas are supposed to get new turfs so for at least one more year we are at Put Valley and once all that’s done, what we are looking to do is to extend and have more teams and maybe double the league and have it both at Put Valley and at Lakeland,” Jon Hourahan said. “We will make it a double tournament with the winning team at Put Valley playing the winning team from Lakeland, so that’s the goal of the league.”