To say that a special season for the Commack boys soccer team began at a hair salon in East Northport could be an oversimplification.
Still there they were, almost two dozen strong, at the 10-chair Karma Salon on Larkfield Road with a single request: All wanted their hair bleached. The staff of the salon brought in pizzas. There was music and camaraderie. The Cougars emerged some three hours later sporting a single look and a singular championship goal. They were unified for all to see.
“It definitely looked like a great bonding experience for them,” said stylist Randi Johnson, who’s been performing the annual Commack ritual for the past six years. “What could be more unifying for a team? The same uniforms and the same hair. That was a fun day.”
Commack is 10-0-1 and sits atop Suffolk I. That’s more about a senior-laden group with diverse and complementary skills than a hairstyle. However the unity witnessed at the hair salon is the linchpin in all the Cougars have accomplished so far and hope to accomplish in the coming weeks.
Commack won the 2014 state title, but so far has not unseated Brentwood as the standard-bearer in Long Island soccer. Brentwood has three of the last 10 state titles and stands synonymous with soccer excellence. Last week Commack completed a season sweep of the two-game regular-season series against the Indians with a 2-0 win. Brentwood had lost two conference games to the same foe in the same season just once since 2003, in 2009 to Commack.
The Indians cast a long shadow. The Cougars have the potential to be the team that emerges from that long shadow, as it did in 2014, but a Suffolk I schedule is littered with pitfalls. Ward Melville earned what it has to feel like was a win with a 2-2 tie against the Cougars that was halted by lightning in overtime.
Commack’s fourth-year coach Dave Moran — an assistant coach on the 2014 state title team — said what churned up in the near defeat is inspiring.
“We saw what we were made of at a dinner after it,” he said. “They felt the salty taste. They were mad. But the next day there was no finger-pointing. They wanted to win. Good teams don’t like that taste. Sometimes that taste takes you over the top.”
“Since we started coming to see the high school games when we were in middle school, we haven’t seen much of beating Brentwood. They consistently produce amazing talent and win a lot, so they do cast a shadow,” senior goalkeeper Brian Mirman said. “By winning both games against them this season, we’ve maybe pulled away a little of the shadow and shown we can have the special season.”
“The rivalry with Brentwood has respect,” said Matthew Cozetti, who has a team-leading 11 goals and five assists “How we have done against them feels like a huge compliment.”
While the idea of eighth-graders watching a high school varsity team could appear inconsequential, that was anything but the case for Commack. Four members of the current Cougars — Matt Newfield, Tyler Meotti, Michael Sicoli and Jake Gelfand — were the ball boys for the 2014 state title team. They were at every game along the way and those images of success remain with them and are passed along to this team.
“We saw an experience that you dream about and we do talk to our teammates about what it would be like to be in a position like that,” Meotti said. “They may not have been the best team in the field. But they showed that the work you put in and the hard work can get the result . . . this team looks like it has that potential. We have to [realize] it.”
Moran became coach after the 2014 championship season and his squad was decimated by graduation. He said “I didn’t do what I did looking to this season,” but he elevated a handful of freshmen to the varsity team in the next season.
“I see a huge cause and effect between that and today,” Cozetti said. “A bunch of us started playing varsity at an early age and that experience playing — and playing with each other— plays a big role in how we’ve played this season.”
No conversation about this Cougars season can begin without the defense. Mirman —dubbed by Moran as “The Great wall of Mirman” — hasn’t allowed a goal for a team that has outscored foes 35-3in 11 games.
In front of him is what Moran calls “Lightning and Thunder,” defensive backs Kyle Artura and Liam Rothar. Artura may be the fastest person on the team — “he toys with the other guys in sprints,” Aidan Keenan said — and Rothar is “the guy who somehow makes every play,” Moran said.
With the defense as a foundation, the offense can thrive. Keenan plays the physical foil to Cozetti's athletic scorer. Meotti said “[Cozetti] is quick and skilled and can get his own shot, but [Keenan] makes people deal with him.”
Keenan has six goals and five assists. Rothar has five goals and two assists and fellow defender Bryan Thompkins has fivegoals. Newfield has a goal and eight assists for the Cougars.
“People may or may not think something of taking the [season sweep] from Brentwood, but when you play the best it brings out your best,” Moran said.
So maybe it is fair to call Commack the team to beat in tough Suffolk I. Ward Melville (5-2-2) may have a say, but Commack and Brentwood may be on course to a third meeting in the postseason. Brentwood (9-2-0) has to know something has been taken and will be inspired.
“Being there for the 2014 championship and seeing what that was like makes doing something like that what you want,” Newfield said. “Our team has some of the same characteristics, but the biggest one is our chemistry. It’s just a good mix.”