Gene Sicoli looked around while standing on Commack's field before the start of a preseason soccer practice.
The Commack senior midfielder saw 16 other seniors. Among them was League I's returning Most Valuable Player, Justin Cebollero, who won the award despite the Cougars' elimination in a quarterfinal the previous year.
Sicoli glanced to his right at Ryan Nigro, affectionately nicknamed "The Honey Badger'' because of his unrivaled work ethic, who "was probably doing push-ups or something'' at the time, Sicoli said. A few years ago, Nigro wasn't even playing competitive soccer.
Sicoli then saw junior goalkeeper Ryan Sinnott, who had just gotten over the emotional anguish that comes with being a keeper and allowing three goals in a playoff loss.
Individually, Sicoli realized, they each had something to prove this season.
"And so did I, definitely,'' said Sicoli, who returned after missing most of last season because of mononucleosis. "Missing last year was definitely my motivating factor for this year. But there was something else. I've seen Commack teams, talented teams, too, not succeed, and as a senior, I didn't want to be on another.''
Ah, a larger goal, the product of several smaller ones.
"On that tryout day before the season, we all said going into this year that we could do something special,'' Sicoli said. "The belief was that we could win a county title.''
It came together early. The Cougars won their first 13 games behind a stout defense that allowed only five goals in that span. Nigro, Peter Brennan, Noah Gittleman, Vincenzo Diliberti and Josh Eisler formed a stingy back line.
Perhaps more impressive was Commack's offense, which averaged 3.25 goals through the first 13 games. An impressive group of midfielders, led by Mike Pallonetti and Sicoli, distributed the ball well. Cebollero, who finished with 18 goals, was the main beneficiary. Connor Gill had seven goals on the season, Mike Duren six and Edgar Martinez five.
But in the middle of all that success, Commack experienced some adversity. After winning 13 straight, Commack lost to Brentwood and tied Ward Melville in back-to-back games.
"That motivated and humbled us,'' Nigro said. "We were ready to forget about individual goals and refocused on what really matters, and we remained confident we can bounce back.''
They did in a big way.
Commack allowed only three goals in the eight games after tying Ward Melville. The Cougars won each -- including the state championship game, in which they beat Fairport, 2-0. Anthony Izzo scored both goals.
It was the first state soccer title for the Cougars since 1995.
"Sometimes we sit back and think about it,'' Sicoli said, "but I don't think it has sunk in yet, even though the season has been over for a little while now.''
Perhaps it will at a later time, when Sicoli looks around and sees the group of state champions.