Last year’s Suffolk County Class C boys soccer playoffs had a notable absence. The defending county, Long Island and New York State Southeast Regional champions were on the sidelines, out of the playoffs for the first time in recent memory.
The roster at Pierson High School was, for the most part, full of inexperienced players at the varsity level and the team never found its rhythm during a largely disappointing 3-13 campaign. The Whalers lost two key seniors from that team in Alex Weseley and Borys Zasada, but return much of their lineup otherwise. The one glaring absence, however, will be Jorge Alvarado, the team’s best scorer, who did not return to Pierson this year.
“We had a really good week of practice. We’re right into it,” Peter Solow, the team’s longtime head coach, said on Monday. “We had our first scrimmage today against East Hampton, and the team looks really solid.”
Juniors Habtama Coulter and Mateo Barahona will lead the scoring attack while Kevin Guanga and Nick DiRussa will anchor the defense. Junior Nick Collage is expected to see most of the time in goal, though the season is so young, Solow said, it’s hard to evaluate each individual player. The good news is that Solow and JV coach Marc Schimmer have an abundance of players this season, with more than 45 athletes having come out to play soccer at the high school level.
“We had a really good week of practice and our first game is on Thursday at home against Babylon,” said Solow, whose team will take the field at Mashashimuet Park for that opener on September 5 at 4:30 p.m.
Pierson will play a difficult schedule in League VII this season, including a game at Southampton under lights this Saturday evening at 7 p.m. The Whalers’ schedule also includes games against Class B powerhouses Center Moriches and Mattituck, as well as Hampton Bays and Port Jefferson. Pierson, which is a Class C school, will play Southold and Greenport twice as those teams prepare to make a run at the Suffolk County Class C playoffs.
“If we had last year’s schedule, I would be predicting the World Cup for us,” Solow said with a laugh, though the confidence he has this early in the season is not all that common. “It may be easier to win the county than the league. But we have guys who have a commitment to doing really well, who are intelligent in how they play and I think we will surprise some people in how we play.”
Seniors Jessup Kunzeman, Coby Penefield and Danny Pineda will help lead this year’s team, along with other key juniors returning like Joey Badilla, Sebastian Gomez, Kobe Kinney and Jhoziel Guanga-Soliz. There are also a legion of freshmen and sophomores looking to leave their own mark on the Pierson program.
“If the one scrimmage is any indication, I think we’re going to have a good team,” Solow said. “I think we’re really going to hit our stride two or three weeks into the season.”
With Kneeland Gone, Girls Look To Build
Haley Luzim has returned to coach the varsity girls soccer team at Pierson, a program she helped found back in 2007. Since then, it’s been an up and down ride, but some tremendous players have come through the program, including goalie Katie Kneeland, who was one of several talented seniors to graduate from last year’s team.
The Lady Whalers finished 2-12-1 last year, but had the opportunity to petition Section XI, the governing body of high school athletics in Suffolk County, for a playoff spot as the only Class C team in the county. With Luzim out last year because of a concussion, Kevin Roode coached the team and decided, along with Pierson athletic director Eric Bramoff, not to petition.
This year’s team once again is the only Class C school in Suffolk County.
“You only want to petition to go if you are going to do well,” Luzim said on Tuesday, as she and her players prepared for the start of school. “The baseball team is a good example. We fought for them to go and they were a legit team.”
Pierson currently has 22 players in the program, with plans to only field a varsity team. Junior Grace Perello, a talented lacrosse player and all-around athlete, replaces Kneeland in goal and will be protected by seniors Halle Kneeland and Kathryn Powell, who will lead up the defense.
A huge boost to the team came when junior Brooke Esposito decided to play soccer instead of field hockey this year. Esposito has excelled in field hockey and basketball at Pierson, and has played travel soccer for years.
“She’s excellent,” Luzim said about her new center midfielder. “She’s played soccer for a long time, but did field hockey at school. I knew she was thinking about it, she practiced with us during the summer and then decided to come out.”
Senior Chastin Giles, a standout basketball player, has also decided to play soccer again and Ellie Borzilleri is a talented senior forward who is joined on the roster by fellow seniors Vicki Dudeck-Tipton, Angela Lemus-Sandoval, Louise DiPaolo and Carly Gulotta.
The Lady Whalers will begin the season with a game at Westhampton Beach on Thursday, September 5, at 4:30 p.m. The team’s first home game at Pierson High School is against East Hampton on Tuesday, September 10, also at 4:30 p.m.
“There are some winnable games this year,” Luzim said. “We’re hoping Amityville, Wyandanch, Hampton Bays and Smithtown Christian are all games we can win.”