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The Watkins Glen squad. Top, from left: Devon Shaw, Taylor Gates, Ian Anderson, Tony Keough, Josh Teeter, Chris Duane, Marshall Secord, Andrew Malaney, Thomas Wickham, Ethan Roth, Shane Smith, John Fausold. Bottom, from left: Austin Stephany, Will Simiele, Jesse Teeter, Andrew Conklin, Kody Gregory, Gavin Gates, Brett Somerville, Adam Meirjurgen. Coaches Henry Ferguson and Mark Stephany are standing left and right, respectively.

We were champions ...

Back in 2010, when WGHS's boys soccer team prevailed

Editor's Note: The following recounts the IAC Large School championship posted by the Watkins Glen High School boys varsity soccer team 10 years ago, long before anyone knew the words "social distancing." The showdown with Trumansburg, which had defeated the Senecas lopsidedly during the regular season, is told here as perhaps a stress reliever in this pandemic age. It was written by someone wishing to remain anonymous, a request which I will honor -- with thanks for the spiritual pick-me-up. I was present, camera in hand, on that long-ago day, and can attest to the story's accuracy.

Special to The Odessa File

In a year marred by a worldwide pandemic and the loss of so much -- so many good people and so many jobs -- the loss of opportunities to play and cheer and support our favorite teams pales by comparison. Despite the sadness and the challenges that face us, however, I appreciated a text message on the topic of a championship soccer game that I received on Saturday, October 24th -- a reminder of better times that provided me with a rare chance to pause and smile.

That day marked the 10th anniversary of a moment in Schuyler County sports history when everything clicked; when every part of a local sports team came together. A moment that deserves more than just the fleeting Facebook post or an exchange of text messages. A moment for remembering and smiling.

It was October 24, 2010 and the Watkins Glen boys soccer team entered the Interscholastic Athletic Conference Large Division championship match on the artificial turf pitch of Ithaca High School against the only team to have defeated them that season. Trumansburg had handed the Senecas a painful 5-0 loss at the GLM memorial soccer tournament in Watkins Glen earlier that season; a game marred by lack of focus and several cards for the home team; a game in which we desperately wanted to do justice to the memory of players lost in a tragic accident. That was not our proudest moment. But today would be different. We would remember and learn.

From the moment the Senecas stepped on the team bus at the Watkins Glen Field House that morning, they were nothing but focused and disciplined. Not tight. Focused and disciplined. The bus was silent for the 45-minute ride to Ithaca. The only words spoken were about warm-up routines, formations and values. Team values and trust in one another.

When the team got off the bus, they were led by trainer Jim Somerville. They had discovered the incredible value of having a professional trainer that year and Mr. Somerville would make that value particularly evident this day. The Small Division match was still in progress on the main pitch as Mr. Somerville led the team in a silent single-file procession to an adjacent grass field where they completed a warm-up routine that didn’t involve a soccer ball. He would insure that they were totally prepared physically and mentally for the battle ahead.

When the time came for the team to enter the main pitch, the feeling was electric. The stands were full. WGHS Principal Dave Warren had made sure that a full spectator bus was sent, and many other IAC teams were there along with other WG fall sports teams. One school team even rerouted their team bus to stop at the match that day. And of course Trumansburg was well represented, with the match not many miles from their backyard.

The Senecas immediately executed a high-touch, high intensity soccer warm-up routine that looked like a machine. Just watching them made the hair stand up on the back of your neck. Something was different today. Coach Henry Ferguson had designed a masterful 4-5-1 formation for the game that day: a flat-back 4 defense, with 5 midfielders swarming on every ball and only one forward attacking the goal. It would require so much work from the midfield that a steady rotation of players would be required to keep up the pace.

Everyone would have to contribute.

Early in the match it became clear that the Senecas weren’t just happy to be there; they came to play. Just a few minutes into the first half, midfielder Andrew Malaney took a long shot from the right side that careened off the cross bar and landed to the left of the goal at the chest of midfielder Chris Duane, who adeptly absorbed the ball and put it to his feet. The T-burg defender understandably shifted to defend the right foot, but there was just one thing: Chris Duane was a natural lefty. The momentum of the ball had carried it to his left foot, and immediately my heart screamed “GOAL.” Chris delivered as expected and a celebration ensued.

For the remainder of the first half, the Senecas protected the slim lead using a swarming midfield defense that went deep into the Senecas' bench to keep the Raiders from getting past midfield. However, each time the Raiders penetrated the midfield, it was clear that their star midfielder, Abreham Kittel, and a German striker (whose name I can’t remember) were quite capable of scoring the equalizer at any moment. Yet the Senecas had on their bench an unlikely secret weapon in Shane Smith. While not a soccer player by trade, he was one of the fastest 220 runners on the track team and a role-player who had been content with playing in less high-pressure games. Imagine his surprise when told early in the game to warm up. Little did Shane know that he had been well prepared for the role of man-marking Kittel, by marking the best midfielders at the end of each of the last few regular-season contests. And he fulfilled this role with the relentless tenacity of a pit bull.

The incredible swarming midfield created enough breathing room for another long midfield shot to take a fortuitous trajectory to the chest of center midfielder Austin Stephany (156 career varsity points), who found himself at the middle of the 18 box with the ball at his feet, a frozen Raiders goalkeeper and the patience to nestle the ball into the right corner of the net. 2-0 Senecas.

Then came the war. The Raiders knew that they had the weapons to score and in the second half, dialed in their long passing game to bypass the swarming midfield and challenge the Senecas' flat-back four of Thomas Wickham, Ethan Roth, Taylor Gates and Marshall Secord. Time after time the defense turned back well-orchestrated attacks, and keeper Andrew Conklin came up with huge saves.

If there was a play of the game, however -- and I say “if” because there were so many contributions by so many young men that day -- it was the last scoring play of the game. The Raiders were repeatedly knocking at the door and Kittel had threaded a pass to the wide-open German striker, who found himself in the center of the 18 box with Gates to his left and Marshall Secord seemingly too far to his right. No one told Secord. As the striker dribbled in on a frozen Conklin and the precipice of a momentum changing goal, Secord flew in out of nowhere with a slide tackle right in the penalty box and right in front of the referee. He miraculously picked the attacker's pocket before sending him tumbling to the ground, the Raiders fans screaming for a penalty kick and the referee dramatically gesturing “clean tackle.”

While others were distracted by the play and the screaming, right back Thomas Wickham was laser focused as he corralled the ball out wide right and drove a long clear to a waiting Austin Stephany just beyond the midfield circle. Stephany chested the ball to his feet, turned and fed striker Ian Anderson, who instinctively knew that he couldn’t go 1 on 4 with the Tburg defense. Anderson shielded the ball and let Stephany make a move that led to a classic series of 1-2 give-and-go passes that ended with Anderson tucking away the ball in the net.

An almost certain 2-1 contest and momentum shift to Tburg had become a 3-0 Senecas back-breaking lead. The IAC Boys Large School Championship belonged to Watkins Glen.

The next day, Coach Henry Ferguson would be selected IAC coach of the year for his brilliant game plan and ability to bring together the squad after facing mid-season adversity.

While the Senecas' season would sadly end with a 1-0 sectional loss to the same Blue Raiders team (which would eventually advance to a State Finals double overtime 1-0 loss to Skaneateles), in that moment on October 24, 2010, the Senecas were CHAMPS.

They were champions, and in our hearts, at that moment, the best class C team in the State of New York.

Photos in text:

Top: Watkins Glen celebrates its first goal, by Chris Duane (yellow shoes). From left: Austin Stephany, Chris Duane, Ian Anderson and Will Simiele.
Second: The Senecas' Austin Stephany (5) moves in for Watkins Glen's second goal.
Third: Watkins Glen's Ian Anderson prepares to score his team's final goal.
Bottom: The Senecas' goalkeeper, Andrew Conklin, goes high for a save.

Head coach Henry Ferguson is doused after his team's victory over Trumansburg.

To reach the H.L. Stephens website, click here.



© The Odessa File 2020
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869