The Westhampton Beach boys soccer team lost 11 players to graduation following last season’s 5-1 opening-round playoff loss to Sayville, but its biggest loss came well after the season ended.
Juan Cárdenas, an integral part of the Hurricanes soccer team before a knee injury prematurely ended his senior year, died on July 3, two days after he lost control of his Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle on Montauk Highway in Shinnecock Hills. On July 10, head coach Don O’Brien organized a memorial soccer game, held in Cárdenas’s honor, at the high school.
Even though he graduated in June, many of the team’s returning players were still good friends with Cárdenas and continue to mourn him. As an ongoing tribute to their former teammate, the squad’s warm-up gear this season will feature either Cárdenas’s name, his number 10, or a combination of both.
O’Brien noted that the district’s soccer program has started a scholarship fund in Cárdenas’s name and will also hold an inaugural Juan Cárdenas Alumni Game next August. All of the funds raised throughout the season by the team will benefit the Cárdenas family.
“He is gone way too soon, but he’s not forgotten,” O’Brien said of Cárdenas. “I still have a handful of kids that were tight with him.
“It’s been rough for the kids,” he added. “It’s been really hard for them.”
Returnees will also face a new season without other key players, including Furkan Akyol, Jordan Daniel, Serkan Kopuz, Angel Saquic, Heber Garcia, Darren Taylor, Elan Assayag and Andrew Percoco, all who graduated last June. Joe Ogeka and Francesco Logozzo, who split time in goal last season, have also graduated, leaving Westhampton Beach with nine vacant starting positions.
The team’s two captains this season—seniors Eric Hayes and Max Pastor—will be relied upon for their leadership. Due to injuries last season, both Hayes and Pastor were playing out of position. This season Hayes will return to his attacking midfield position and Pastor will be at his natural forward spot.
Pastor was declared dual-eligible this fall, meaning he will play both soccer and football. O’Brien, Pastor and football head coach Bill Parry sat down earlier this summer to go over the specifics of Pastor’s duties on the football field. He will strictly kick field goals for the football team and quickly get off the field. He will not be the team’s punter.
“Sharing him is not going to be a problem,” O’Brien said. “The good thing about Max is that he’s going to be a goal scorer, and since that wasn’t his job last year, nobody really knows about him. This year he grew a little bit, he’s gotten faster. He’s going to score some goals this year.”
A number of players will be stepping into starting roles this season. They include freshman Jay Brezinksi, who scored the only goal in last season’s playoff loss to Sayville and three goals as an eighth-grader. Also returning are senior Matt Higgins, junior Jeff Zavala and sophomores Jared Percoco, Diego Mendez, Jeff Schulz and Roman Vetri. Maynor Lopez, a junior who has moved into the district from Guatemala, will be starting next to Pastor at forward.
O’Brien was a little worried about his team’s goalkeeper situation, so he went out and recruited one. Senior Ryan Burke, who hasn’t played soccer in a number of years, will be the team’s starting goalie. At 6-feet 3-inches tall and 190 pounds, Burke has the perfect frame to be a successful keeper.
“He’s made tremendous progress since May,” O’Brien said. “I thought goalkeeping would be a weakness for us this year, but it’s not. That’s how much progress he’s made.”
Also new to the program this season is assistant coach John Ruffini, who coached at Hauppauge for several years. He accrued 339 victories as a coach and O’Brien said Ruffini has been his coaching mentor since he began coaching in 1989.
The Hurricanes remain in League V this season, which has seen some changes. Comsewogue, a Class AA team, has been added to the league while Miller Place and East Hampton dropped back down to League VI. Crosstown rival Eastport South Manor remains in the league.
O’Brien thinks Sayville is the top team in the league and, after that, the field is wide open for the remaining top three positions.
“The truth is that we’re young and inexperienced, but we’re going to get better as the season goes on …” he said. “We’re going to be competitive and have a chance to make the playoffs.”
Westhampton Beach will host Pierson on Saturday, September 7, at 7 p.m., and then visits Hampton Bays on Monday, September 9, at 6:30 p.m. Both games are non-league. The Canes will host Harborfields in their first League V game next Thursday, September 12, at 4:30 p.m.
The Lady Hurricanes finished last season with a 4-9-2 overall record and are hoping to improve on that mark this fall.
A positive entering the season is that the team didn’t graduate many players, so its core is returning. Senior Brooke Alpert will return as a midfielder and she will be joined by juniors Julianne Robbins and Arianna Riemma. Robbins has played varsity the past four years and been a staple in the team’s midfield.
Also returning are junior goalie Kathleen Mensch and senior Lauren Smith, the latter of whom played as a forward/midfielder last season but will see time on defense this year. Junior Kennedy Skala, who played some defense last season, will be moved up to forward while her younger sister, Madison, a sophomore, should see a decent amount of playing time after being a late-season call-up last year. Sophomore Julia Strebel will return and play defense.
League V will continue to be competitive. Miller Place and East Hampton, two teams that Westhampton Beach stood toe-to-toe with last season, has dropped down to League VI. Comsewogue, a Class AA team, joins League V.
Westhampton Beach head coach Erika Habersaat has scheduled some tough non-league games to better prepare her team come playoff time. She thinks the Lady Canes can earn a playoff berth if they can finish around the .500 mark since they play in a mixed-classification league.
“I think finishing .500 would be a challenge for us,” Habersaat said. “But if we mesh well together, anything can happen.”
The Lady Canes get things started on Monday, September 9, when they visit Centereach for a non-league game at 4:30 p.m. They will then host William Floyd in another non-league contest next Thursday, September 12, at 4 p.m. Westhampton Beach will play its first league game at Harborfields on Monday, September 16, at 4 p.m.