State-Ranked (No.4) Tuskers Advance to 3rd NYS Final 4 in 6 Years
By Ray Gallagher, Examiner Sports Editor @Directrays
SOMERS has taken the Section 1 Class A soccer mantle and run with, taking three of the last Section 1 titles and appearing in three NYSPHSAA Final 4’s to go with a state title and championship appearance. For a good while, it was BYRAM HILLS representing Section 1 on a regular basis, and while the Bobcats have maintained an exceptional standard, they could only play host to Somers vs. Section 4 champion Maine-Endwell in last Saturday’s NYS Class A regional title tilt between the state-ranked (No.4) Tuskers and top-ranked Spartans, who had no answers for Somers in a 4-0 whitewashing.
Coach Brian Lanzetta has transformed the Tuskers (20-1) into a dominant, statewide powerhouse, and his club got after Maine-Endwell (14-1) with fury, putting a pair between the pipes in the first seven minutes. Before the Spartans, ranked No.22 in the country, knew what hit them, tallies from Noah Saks and Bennett Leitner’s 50th career goal provided all the cushion Somers would need. Somers senior M Daniel D’Ippolito set up the first goal, a smashing direct kick that rebounded off the goalie to Saks. The Big Dipper, perhaps the finest overall player in Section 1 this season, also scored a breakaway goal with 12 minutes left.
“In all honesty, I felt like with them having the three-hour bus ride that we might catch them early if we could jump on them, that was the game plan, to jump out early to hope that their legs were a little shot,” Lanzetta said.
“They were big, they were strong and they were physical, but I think we’ve figured out things defensively, and then on top of that with Daniel and Bennett up top with that 1-2 punch combo that’s very hard to contain. You might stop them five times, but they’re gonna keep on coming and coming at you all game. At some point or another they’re going to put the ball in the back of the net.
“Daniel and Bennet were on the state championship run team that fell short back when they were freshmen, so guys like Lucas Fecci and Jon Riina definitely molded them into that same style of player that they were,” the coach added. “They are literally the same double package as those guys were for us. They are definitely in the discussion together as all-time greats, but Fecci and Riina won a state championship, so we’re not done with the discussion just yet. They gotta go out and get a state title to claim the reins on that.”
Somers G Anthony Tucci made just one save as the Tuskers put the clamps on the overmatched Spartans. Leitner iced the cake with his second goal off a feed from D’Ippolito.
“We knew about that long bus ride for them and that’s unfortunate, but we didn’t take them lightly or take them for granted,” said Leitner, just a pup on the 2018 unit that ended in the state final with a 2-1 loss to Amityville.
The other thing nobody on Somers takes for granted is the D’Ippolito/Leitner connection, which, at times, is a lit fuse as they continue to push one another to be the best they can be.
“Oh yeah, we get after it sometimes,” Leitner said, “ but that’s only because we hold each other to a very high standard. When things don’t go our way, we hold each other accountable. When things do work out and we capitalize on our opportunities we try to make it as beautiful as possible.”
The program itself is in a beautiful place, having found a way to replenish its stars with a feeder system second to none and a know-your-role, pay-the-piper mentality.
“We credit the Feccis and Riinas because they really raised us as kids,” Leitner said. “Those guys brought us in under their wing, and to be where we are now, we hope we’re making them proud.”
Somers senior D Jake Riina, truly raised under the Riina/Fecci wing, doesn’t appear to be quite as hyper-intense as his brother Jon was, but his free spirit is just as much a driving force behind Somers’ success. He knows he’ll have to see his brother on Thanksgiving and hopes to be on equal footing.
“This is the greatest feeling right now, but it’ll only be better when we win states. We knew if we could put these guys away early it would be a better experience for all of us,”said Jake Riina, a captain. “We need to work on some things this week defensively if we’re going to match those guys and win states.”
Somers will face Section 6 champion Williamsville South at 2 p.m. Saturday in a NYSPHSAA semifinal at Middletown High’s Faller Field (grass surface). The other side of the bracket features a Section 11 Amityville team that Somers is all-too-familiar with from past tournament experiences and Section 3 champion East Syracuse-Minoa.
For the second time in Section 1 history, four teams survived and advanced to the Final 4. Class AA Mamaroneck, Class B Westlake and Class C Hamilton all joined Somers by advancing to the NYSPHSAA semifinals Saturday at Middletown High School. The last time Section 1 sent four programs to the Final 4 was 2016 when New Rochelle, Somers, Hastings and North Salem each won the tournament.
“The four teams that have advanced represent all the battles and all the wars we had within,” said Matty Allen, the Byram Hills Coach and president of the Section 1 Coaches Association. “We take pride in the idea that we have contributed in some part to their success in getting them ready to challenge the best in the state. Plus, it shows how competitive and how strong the Hudson Valley is when it comes to soccer. Add in the Hudson Valley Camp and this area is a hotbed for recruiters to witness quality soccer. That’s what the big four do for us.”
Ray has 33 years experience covering and photographing local sports in Westchester and Putnam counties, including everything from Little League/Travel Baseball to varsity high school prep sports and collegiate coverage. He has been a sports editor at Examiner Media since its inception in 2007.