The Kingston Tigers are at 2-8 on the year. The Coleman Statesmen are 1-9-1. Neither team began the season expecting to lose the vast majority of their games, yet neither team sees the season ending on a bum note, either. Kingston’s enrollment dwarfs Coleman’s, yet both schools find themselves in a similar boat, at least on paper. Because even though the Tigers and Statesmen have almost identical records heading into the last week of the regular schedule, only one has performed well enough to make it to the playoffs.
The seemingly indecipherable means by which an area high school team can qualify for postseason play includes a divisional pass which allows for any program with at least an even record against opponents within the same class to advance. It’s why Coleman’s 1-9-1 record is partially misleading; in a season peppered with numerous overwhelming losses, the Statesmen pulled off a 1-1-1 record against fellow Class D schools.
Carrying the distinction given to the smallest schools in a section, Class D squads like Coleman’s have few opportunities during a season to play against teams on an even playing field. All eight of the games the Statesmen have played against larger schools in the area have resulted in losses, a few by double digits.
David Goho is in his third season coaching the Statesmen. A former soccer standout for New Paltz High, he continued playing the game at Harding University in Arkansas. A social studies teacher at Coleman, Goho believes the records both local teams have tallied this season are curious in that, while the success rate of other areas schools will often ebb and flow, the Statesmen and the Tigers don’t seem to be able to find their way clear of the cellar.
“I don’t know why soccer is not that good in Kingston, and it’s been like that since I can remember playing travel league soccer in the mid-‘90s,” Goho said. “And New Paltz teams always killed the Kingston teams. But you never know: Highland used to be really good, and now they’re awful; Marlboro used to be awful and now they’re really good. But Kingston teams haven’t been too good for a long time.”
Kingston and Coleman don’t face off during the regular season, the chasm between Class AA and Class D too vast for consideration. In fact, Coleman’s games against schools above their own class have been limited to those in the B and C distinction. The teams did scrimmage before the regular season began, with the Tigers prevailing over the Statesmen 3-2. For Goho, who has a team which both understands and relishes their inherent weaknesses, the result proved that anything was possible if your goals aren’t too lofty.
“Our goal can’t be an MHAL championship,” he said. “It has to be a sectional win. Obviously we don’t like losing, but we take wins where we can get them.”
And that’s how the postseason berth isn’t considered pure luck. It’s because, even with their own admitted limitations, the Statesmen feel as though they’ve earned it. Without playing Margaretville — the 14th ranked Class D school in the state — to a draw, Coleman would be closing out the slate this week and hanging up their cleats.
Coleman’s sports program is so small, there’s no JV soccer team to serve as a training ground for varsity. On the Statesmen, at least this year, there are no cuts.
“To put it bluntly, the talent pool that exists at a larger school doesn’t exist at Coleman,” said Goho. “For example, if we have 160 kids who can compete, at a larger school they’re going to have 4-5 times the talent to draw from.”
This year’s Statesmen squad runs the gamut of skill and experience.
“I have three really, really good players that could be all-MHAL,” Goho said. “And I’ve got three or four players who have only been playing for six weeks. And I’m glad they joined, because otherwise we wouldn’t have a team.”
Co-captain Jace Van Steenburg, a 16-year-old junior, is one of the few players on the team with a lot of experience. He understands that his role on the team isn’t just to excel as an athlete, but also as a teammate and leader to some of his teammates for whom soccer is still new.
“It’s a matter of just showing them how to play well, being a role model and seeing what they can do,” he said. “They all have that potential.”
Fellow co-captain Sal Carbone, a 17-year-old senior, is playing out his final soccer season at Coleman. He transferred to the school having played in a more successful program.
“When I first got here it was kind of hard to get used to,” he said. “When I played for Lourdes, everybody knew how to play and had more experience than the kids here. But it doesn’t help if you have a negative attitude toward the other kids. We’re really limited to what we can do on the field because of the lack of exp and because we play some bigger schools. It’s really challenging, but I actually kind of like it now. It made me a better player.”
The team being drawn closer together isn’t the only curious result of the team’s losing season; even when they’ve been stomped by bigger and better teams, Goho said the Statesmen still believe they’re going to win the very next time they take to the pitch.
“They think they’re going to win every game,” he said. “They go in and think they are going to rock the other team. Rhinebeck we lost 10-0, Spackenkill 11-0. The next game they’re right back feeling like this is the game we’re going to do it.”
It’s a quality that should serve them well once the postseason begins and they’re matched up against Class D teams exclusively.
“Every time I read in the paper that we’re 1-9-1, it does look bad on paper,” said Van Steenburg. “But I think we’re all looking forward to opening some eyes in the playoffs.”
Carbone agreed. “There’s no reason thinking in the past,” he said. “We have a lot of losses, but we’re a pretty good team. We have the same goal that we’ve had all year, and that’s to win games.”
Size no guarantee
For the Kingston Tigers, coach Rob Cowburn said the school’s size can be both a blessing and a curse, with other Class AA teams in the section riding a wave of tremendous success.
“We’re either fortunate or unfortunate to be in a tough division,” he said. “We have some high-quality opponents that we play, and that factors into our level of success. Monroe is state ranked and Newburgh is the returning state champs. Section 9 is really on the map, and kudos to the other coaches for putting together successful teams. And even if it makes it tough for us, I always feel like we’re in the mix.”
With five games remaining, including one against Newburgh, the Tigers are indeed in the mix, still eligible for the sectional playoffs. Their sectional record currently stands at 2-4, and with two games remaining against sectional opponents there’s no room for error. But like the Statesmen, Kingston’s players are finding ways to look through the darkness and see some light on the horizon.
“It’s very common to hear a guy come to me and say, ‘Hey coach, I’m feeling good today we’re going to win this game,’” Cowburn said.
Some of the players admit to having been hit hard by the losses, but they remain confident they’re not finished yet.
“Being 2-8 is rough, the players have been great though they play 100 percent every time we step on the field they give their hearts out if we are losing 2-1 or winning 3-0,” said Juan Lemus, an 18-year-old senior who’s been playing soccer since the age of 5. “I think the last couple of games should be really intense since we have the opportunity to be in sectionals if we win the rest of those games. It will be tough but it can be done.”
Giovanni Umattino, a 17-year-old senior, agreed.
“It’s definitely possible,” he said. “We’ve played Newburgh really close and we can stack up against Pine Bush.”
Korey Jubie, a 16-year-old junior, said the losses have impacted the team in different ways, but added that they remained dedicated each and every time they play.
“There’s guys that will give it 110 percent every minute of the game,” he said. “We go out there with the same intensity as if it was our first game with a 0-0 record. It’s sometimes made it a little harder, and we’ve had to tighten the reins during practices and games. But we still want to win and that’s our main goal. The season isn’t over till the whistle blows at the end of the last game.”
Because it’s high school, rosters are in a state of evolution from year to year. But Cowburn said he feels the program is heading in the right direction, and that wherever they wind up finishing in 2010, 2011 will represent an improvement.
“Our guys have been working hard,” he said. “We lost some good players last year, and the guys have been working hard to gel in their roles and learn their responsibilities on the field. We’re in an up and coming direction making good strides. Unfortunately it hasn’t resulted in wins. But if we play really good down the stretch, it’ll carry some momentum. It’s not easy to make a major jump year to year, but if you can do something better than the day before or the year before, that’s good.”
Cowburn said his team’s greatest flaw this season has been consistency, sometimes over stretches of single games. His players added a few other areas they said they felt like they could stand to see a little improvement.
“Creativity in the midfield lacks every now and then, we have shining moments when everything is clicking, but at moments we look sloppy,” said Umattino. “Finishing has also been rocky, but we have guys who can put it in the back of the net. But we have scoring frenzies or we go null against the opposing team.”
Jubie said he thought the lack of scoring has been the difference in a number of games this season.
“It’s hard to win games when you score as few goals as we do,” he said.
Nils Wendel, a 16-year-old senior goalkeeper, has spent much of the season as a veteran observer after fracturing his kneecap in an early season game against Rondout Valley. He said that no matter how strong a team is mentally, losing is going to have an impact.
“We’ve had rough seasons every year, but we don’t let it get us down for the most part, and in many cases it motivates us to give it our all,” he said. “That said, our history occasionally makes us a little lax when it comes to discipline, and we don’t take everything quite as seriously as we should. It’s hard to always take the team seriously with a history of 2-15-0 seasons.”
It’s impossible to know exactly where either team will wind up when the season is in the books. Despite disappointing overall records, it’s possible both teams will not only have made the postseason, but also pulled off wins. For the senior players in each program, finishing strong could erase a long season of frustration in one flurry of brilliance.