UBy Colin Capece ’18
When asked to reflect on his career playing in Chaminade’s soccer program, Brendan Franko ’18 could think of no other word. It had surely been quite the ride for Franko and the rest of his senior class members on this year’s varsity soccer team. Their journey to Sunday’s C.H.S.A.A. New York State title game had been filled with peaks and valleys, and while they had helped hoist the championship plaque last season, it was mostly members of the 2016 senior class who had carried the load. This year, however, equipped with a new, star-studded class of junior players, this new group of Flyers claimed their own New York State crown with a thrilling 2-1 overtime victory over Regis High School.
On a beautiful fall afternoon at Belson Stadium on the campus of St. John’s University, the Flyers faced off against Regis, located on Manhattan. A Cinderella story this season, the Raiders captured their first-ever New York City title when they beat traditional powerhouse Fordham Prep. They then defeated St. Francis Prep 2-1 this past Friday to advance to their first-ever C.H.S.A.A. state final. Sunday’s matchup invoked feelings of David and Goliath, but the newcomers to the big stage gave the two-time defending state champion Flyers all that they could handle. Chaminade, however, was able to take advantage of a few fortuitous bounces.
The Flyers played without their starting goalkeeper, AJ Rumfola ’19, who was battling an illness. Colin Lawless ’19, who also filled in for Rumfola in Friday night’s 1-0 victory over St. Joseph’s from Buffalo, was tasked with protecting the net once again in this championship clash.
Regis began the game by attacking the Chaminade backline. Playing relaxed and confidently, the Raiders had the Flyers on their heels for the first 10 minutes of the first half. The pressure from the Regis strikers and midfielders allowed the New York City champs to create a number of quality scoring opportunities, the best of which came in the 10th minute. A ball cleared by Chaminade’s defense was deflected and floated to Regis player Colin Hall. The midfielder leaped into the air and, displaying some incredible body control, connected on a bicycle-kick shot. Luckily for Chaminade, the strike whacked off the crossbar and bounced away from the net.
The Regis defense was stout early in the game, frustrating the Flyers and drawing attackers offsides with consistency. A fluke play in the 23rd minute, however, allowed Chaminade to score first.
A ball lofted up the pitch by Flyers left back Chris Mercadante ’18 bounced beyond the Regis back line. Goalkeeper Andrew Ceonzo sprinted forward from his line while a Regis defender attempted to head the ball back to his teammate. Captain Kevin Lynch ’18, hustling all the way down the field, controlled the ball that had skipped past Ceonzo. While running full speed and at a difficult angle, Lynch poked the ball into the back of the net to put the Flyers on the board.
“That’s just Lynch,” said teammate Ben Szemerenyi ’19 with a laugh. “He’s one of the hardest working guys on our team. He never gives up on any play and will just try to run down any ball you pass in his direction.”
The Flyers nearly extended their lead just a few minutes later. Tim deMeij ’18 sliced and diced two defenders on the left touchline, cut the ball back to his right foot, and picked out teammate Jonathan Veletanga ’19 at the top of the six-yard box. However, the junior’s shot sailed over the bar.
Regis was unfazed by their first-half miscue and went right back to their gameplan in the second half. The Raiders tightened up their defense and continuously built up their attack from back to front. Eventually, their high-pressure offense led to the equalizing goal. In the 49th minute, a beautiful, high arching ball was played from the Regis back line. The Raiders’ Liam Nicholson elevated above two Chaminade defenders and flicked a header into the top right corner to tie the game at one. Despite some more great opportunities for Regis to take the lead, the contest would remain tied for the rest of the half. This year’s state title game would have to be decided in golden goal overtime.
Just five minutes into the first overtime period, Lynch again refused to give up on a long aerial pass and chased down the ball near the end line. His hustle earned Chaminade a corner kick and the opportunity to finish the game with a set piece. N.S.C.H.S.A.A. leading scorer Szemerenyi stepped up to the corner flag and delivered a bending ball that went untouched into the back of the net. Everyone in the stadium seemed a little stunned at first, but the Flyers and their supporters were soon celebrating.
“I was absolutely shocked when the ball went in the goal,” said Szemerenyi, a junior. “When I went to take the kick, I knew that we had a chance to score. Our defenders and midfielders are pretty tall and can be dangerous on those types of plays. I wasn’t really trying to score, but just whip in a good cross.”
A combination of the wind and the pace with which the ball was kicked helped guide Szemerenyi’s cross over the outstretched hand of Cenozo and into the side netting to give Chaminade their third consecutive New York State title.
It is safe to say that the past three seasons of Chaminade soccer will go down as some of the greatest in the school’s proud history. By winning a third straight New York State championship, this Flyers squad accomplished something that had never been done by any of their predecessors.
“It’s crazy to think that we are the first team to accomplish that feat,” admitted Franko. “Day in and day out this season, guys just played hard. All year we were truly committed to accomplishing this goal, and it’s incredible to say that we are state champions once again.”