The Hampton Bays boys soccer team has made postseason play an annual occurrence, having qualified the past six consecutive seasons, and eight of the last nine.
Since making the playoffs is now an expectation, head coach John Paga said he would like his team to focus on improving throughout the season so that when the postseason rolls around, the Baymen can find a way to defeat one of the big guns in Class B, either returning Long Island Champion Mattituck or Center Moriches, which has eliminated the Baymen in the first round of the playoffs the past five seasons.
“Getting by them would be a start,” he said. “This is another year where I think we’re solid. Mattituck and Center Moriches, you can put them at 1-A and 1-B. But if we can get to playoffs anything can happen.
“So far we haven’t been able to get over that hump, but we’ve had back-to-back 10-win seasons, and beating a team like Mattituck or Center Moriches I think would bring the program to another level,” he added.
Hampton Bays graduated 13 players last season, and that includes its entire defense, along with its two goalies. Harry Fotopoulos, Nick Picataggio, Jamie Rincon and Mario Lara made up a strong defense, while Luke Gustafson and Jordan Luna both did well sharing the keeper duties. Andrew Sarasky, Diego Ortiz and Christian Ospina were a few offensive weapons who graduated.
But the Baymen do have a few key returning players. Andres Tapia, who led Suffolk County in points with 17 goals and 11 assists last season, returns for his senior season. Jean Carlo Blanco, a junior, returns to the midfield, as does Nick Giannone, a senior. Seniors Cristian Iquia and Moises Villareal are also returning.
Filling in the goalkeeping duties will be senior and four-year varsity player Joe Calamita. He didn’t get much playing time last season behind Gustafson and Luna, but he did two years ago before Gustafson joined the team. Paga thinks Calamita can do the job, given his experience.
Hampton Bays will have to fill the void left by its graduated defensemen, though. Senior Kevin Quintero, who played midfield last season, will join the backfield with sophomore Elmer Ramirez, who has been on the team since seventh grade. Junior Andy Reyes, who played in the playoff loss to Center Moriches last season, also will get a crack to play defense along with fellow junior Julio Torres. Freshman Christian Loaiza will play forward and midfield.
“We’re deep in competition,” Paga said. “I have 18 to 20 guys fighting for my starting 11. We may be all around stronger than we were last year, but we’ll see how we grow as a defense.”
Hampton Bays is installing a brand new turf field, and Paga said that his team’s strategy had to change because of it. The players practiced on the turf field at Westhampton Beach High School during the summer to learn the adjustments, since the field at Hampton Bays has not been completed yet. The field is expected to be ready by the end of this week.
“We went from playing on one of the smaller fields in the county to a big, much faster field,” he said. “Andres is a speed guy, and we’ve got some good athletes. I think we play more direct than Mattituck, but Center Moriches is a big, strong and athletic team, so they may like it more than we do.
“But we’ve played at East Hampton and Westhampton Beach, where they have turf fields,” Paga continued. “I think it’ll change things a little, but once we get on it, hopefully, in the end, it’s beneficial.”
Other than Mattituck and Center Moriches, the Baymen will play games against perennial playoff contender Southampton and Port Jefferson, who has won the Class C state title the past two years. The Royals have since been bumped up to League VII/Class B.
Hampton Bays will host Southold on Saturday at 10 a.m. and then host Westhampton Beach on Monday at 6:30 p.m. Both games are non-league. The Baymen will start the league schedule on Tuesday, September 17, at home against Babylon at 6 p.m.