With Ben Nacht making big save after big save, Half Hollow Hills West made it all the way to the 2017 state final.
Its competition on Long Island will be different this season, but Nacht and a deep Colts team have their eyes on a return to Middletown.
“We have high expectations based on what we did last year,” the goalie said of the team’s run in the Class AA state playoffs, which ended in defeat to Rochester McQuaid Jesuit. A drop in enrollment means the Colts will play in Class A in 2018.
“There are a lot of good teams we haven’t seen before, which will be a challenge,” Nacht said.
Hills West is the top team in the classification, with Nacht headlining a group of eight returning starters. In the team’s six postseason wins, he made 45 saves with four shutouts and allowed just five goals.
“I felt like I was playing some of the best soccer I ever played during that run,” he said. “I wanted to be in the spotlight so I was ready for it.”
“Ben is easily one of the best goalkeepers on Long Island,” coach Doug Gannon said. “He’s strong in the box, rarely lets up a rebound and controls everything.”
The Colts also return their three starting defenders in Luke Bloom, Jonah Landow and Steven Lakatos, with midfielder Casey Brugna also offering cover. Jonathan Bragoli is the playmaker in the midfield, setting up forwards Marcus Fraser and Will Goldbaum.
Their competition includes Hauppauge, the reigning Class A county champion led by Shawn Coles, who had 18 goals and 11 assists last season. Fellow prolific scorer Kymani Hines (17 goals, nine assists) will lead Amityville.
Commack, Brentwood and Smithtown West will be the top contenders among the large schools.
Commack is led by dynamic forward Matthew Cozzetti, who scored 15 goals and had four assists last year. He will be joined upfront by Aidan Keenan, with playmaker Tyler Meotti and workhouse Mike Principe featuring in the midfield.
Brian Mirman will be in goal behind left back Matt Newfield and center back Liam Rothar for a defense that had 11 shutouts en route to the county semifinals.
Brentwood, which also reached the semifinals, looks to be stout in the midfield and defense. Kilmer Campos leads the backline which also includes Willy Hernandez, while Anthony Molina is in goal. Edwin Diaz, Justin Cabezas and Jonathon Hernandez are the midfielders.
Smithtown West, the 2017 county finalist, also promises to be solid defensively, led by backs Michael Hunsucker, Eric Reuter and Carl Carrano, as well as goalie Jake Meaney.
Newfield (led by Rafael Celanti), Northport (featuring Steve Siso), and Whitman are also contenders.
Class B and C
Center Moriches will again be the team to beat in Class B after going undefeated and winning the state title last season. The Red Devils return five starters from last year’s team: goalkeeper Curtis Copenhaver, forward Jack Wicks and midfielders Matt Alifano, Nick Baust and Michael Luongo
Pierson-Bridgehampton won the Suffolk Class C title last season, with 14-goal scorer Jorge Alvarado helping lead the way.