The merged Saugerties High School and John A. Coleman Catholic High School boys varsity soccer team is off to a stellar 2-0 start to their 2018 campaign, a season that was never guaranteed at all.
“These kids, they didn’t really know each other,” said Coach Michael Riley. “We have kind of a Franken-team, with kids coming from all different places.”
Three players, all seniors, comprise the Coleman side of the Sawyers this season, including defender Henry Anderson; and co-captains Jax Mautone, a goalkeeper; and Brandon Davenport, a midfielder. Josue Martinez, a senior midfielder from Saugerties, is the third captain.
Three is a recurring number for the team, which after receiving merger approval for this season from the Mid-Hudson Athletic League, saw not just a trio come over from Coleman, but also just three returning players from last year’s Saugerties squad.
“Saugerties is not what I would call a soccer town,” Riley said. “And in high school soccer, you get what you get and you don’t get upset. It’s a unique animal, and it’s literally sometimes year-to-year you have no idea what you’re going to get. A lot of the schools we play have travel programs and despite the massive number of kids that play at the recreational level we do not have a travel program. So we rely on luck, we rely on kids who decide they want to play last minute.”
In spite of the difficulty in filling the roster, Riley said the quality of this year’s squad is undeniable.
“We were able to convince some really strong soccer players who are Saugerties students to come out,” said Riley of a roster that currently includes 16 players, only around half of whom are upperclassmen. The team also has four sophomores, two freshmen, and an eighth-grader, midfielder Shaan Sekhon. After two games, sophomore forward Axel Gomez leads the team with six goals.
It began with a visit from Red Hook on Thursday, Aug. 30, a 6-4 Saugerties win that likely took the perennial powerhouse by surprise. Gomez led the charge with three goals, with Davenport (two goals) and Sekhon (goal) also contributing to the offensive explosion. Mautone helped preserve the win on a busy afternoon with six saves. If Red Hook was surprised, so too were the Sawyers.
“To get that first win against Red Hook, we all kind of looked around at each other and said, ‘I think that just happened,’” said Riley. “It felt good. It was ugly, we gave up a lot of goals, but we can score goals. The fact that we put in more goals in our first two games than we did … I don’t know, but it took forever to do that last year.”
If there was any concern about the win being an anomaly, Saugerties hosted non-league Orange County opponent Monticello on Tuesday, September 4 and won in pretty much the same way, a 5-3 result that saw them jump out to an early lead that was substantial enough to hold down the stretch. Even the offense was similar, with Gomez (three goals), Davenport (goal, three assists) and Sekhon (goal) all hitting the back of the net. Mautone, who earned player of the match honors, recorded seven saves in goal.
“Both games were really high-scoring, which is rare,” said Riley. “It was a great result both times. Ugly, but they don’t ask how, they ask how many.”
Riley credited the players with the team’s explosive offense, which has shown remarkable fluidity given how little many of the players knew about one another before practices began in mid-August.
“That’s entirely the focus of the kids,” Riley said. “They just clicked from the moment they met each other. The chemistry is theirs, and the approach I’ve taken with this team is let them have fun, let them be creative and experiment, and try not to be a puppeteer. And they’re figuring it out on their own.”
Defensively, though, Riley admitted they could use a bit of work and a bit of direction.
“That is the biggest focus of our next few days and in the weeks going forward,” he said. “We’re very young, and they just need to see reps. They need to get in game situations often enough to be able to read defensively. We have a couple of kids who are experienced enough where we can put them back so they can help. But every game is a chess match for us. It’s moving experience around to help the inexperienced.”
The goal in the short term is to continue coming together, said Riley, with the distant goal making the sectional playoffs. But first they’ll have to keep hot on offense and tighten up on the defensive end.
Next up for Saugerties-Coleman is a visit from FDR on Thursday, Sept. 6, followed one week later by a visit to New Paltz. They may not surprise any teams from here on in, but they may do enough in training to make up the difference.