By Sophia Ricco
Whitman boys soccer team has a new trophy for the case. The Wildcats’ 13-3 season ended with a Suffolk County championship.
The team ended the regular season second in their league to secure a playoff berth. Head coach John DiGiacomo said at the start of the season he knew he had a talented team, but emphasized the hard work the boys put in to get to the top.
“We knew we were a playoff team,” DiGiacomo said. “It was just a matter of where we fell in to defeating those teams.”
The team battled through three rounds of playoffs to make it to the title game. They won against Bellport, 3-0, then went to Brentwood, a well coached team. In the next round, Commack, a tough team with fast, physical players gave the Wildcats a run. The win over the Cougars earned Whitman a trip the Suffolk County Championship against Newfield. It was an intense, 2-1 victory, and DiGiacomo commends his players’ passion and athleticism.
“They were just a really well-rounded, talented group of young men… We have a great core of really good players, it definitely helped build the bond,” DiGiacomo said.
During the Championships, Roberto Alfaro scored the Wildcats their first goal with an assist from Jason Quintanilla. The game-winning goal came from Richard Morel who “blasted” a free kick. Morel, who is a sophomore forward, scored 14 goals during the season, a high number for his class. Goalie, Sean Rankel made 10 saves to ensure their victory, many during the final minutes of play.
“We relied upon hard work all season and we definitely had some talent,” DiGiacomo said. “They were a tight knit group, I had some great leaders, my four captains. Those guys kinda brought everybody together.”
His captains, midfielder Wilmer Dominguez Funez, forward and midfielder Nikolas Cerrito, defender Anthony Paredes Trujillo, and forward and midfielder Jordan Perez Hernandez are all considered top players.
DiGiacomo has coached soccer at Whitman for 18 years, with one year as the assistant coach before moving up to head coach. Along with that he coaches varsity bowling and teaches physical education at Stimson Middle School. This year, two of his 2015 State champion players came back as assistant coaches.
“We moved some players to different positions that we thought would help us in the beginning of the season,” DiGiacomo said. “We changed some things around and played a little bit of a different formation than we normally do, so there was a little bit of a learning curve in the beginning.”
Their triumph at the Suffolk County Championship advanced them to the Long Island Championship where they played Port Washington. Unfortunately, this game was “not meant to be” and the team lost 2-1.
“The boys still have a lot to be proud of,” DiGiacomo said. “Not many teams can say they were Suffolk County champions… State championship or not, we are extremely proud of what they have accomplished. It will go into Whitman history.”
Due to an extreme season schedule, eight of their starting players were battling injuries ranging from shin splints to a foot fracture. DiGiacomo believes that if the injuries had not persisted, the team would have had a better chance of winning.
“The season was an extremely difficult season, it’s 16 games,” DiGiacomo said. “At one point, we played seven games in 14 days, and anybody that knows the game of soccer knows you shouldn’t play seven games in that many days.”
Looking ahead, DiGiacomo will see 17 of his 27 players graduate, leaving only 10 returning players. But he feels good about the players moving up to the varsity. The junior varsity squad ended with a 15-1 record.
Now, it’s all about making sure the new players are prepared for varsity games, that have bigger and more experienced players competing. DiGiacomo considers the offseason to be “absolutely crucial” and would like to have his team play together during this time. He also encourages his players to hit the weight room, which will make them stronger and bigger.
“If the guys work hard, fight for each, work on improving every day, and listen to our coaching methodology then hopefully we can put them in a best place to win in playoffs,” DiGiacomo said.