After two straight years of falling one game short of a sectional title, the Rye Neck boys soccer team finally broke through on Oct. 28. Taking on a game Briarcliff squad at Lakeland High School, the Panthers used every minute of regulation—and 1:15 minutes of overtime—to come away with a thrilling 1-0 victory and hoist the Class B championship for the first time since 2014.
After 80 scoreless minutes of back-and-forth soccer, the Panthers finally broke through in the first overtime period, when Spencer Goldberg headed a Jon Casas corner kick off the Bears’ crossbar. The ball bounced back, hit Bears’ goalie Andrew Kanovsky and bounced into the net, sealing the win for Rye Neck.
“It’s unbelievable, we practice set pieces so much and have really improved upon them this year, and I think [in this game] having had a few chances early helped us out,” Goldberg said. “It was just kind of right place, right time, I got a head on it, it took a lucky bounce and we’re section champions.”
A few months ago, that Rye Neck (13-4-3) would be standing atop Class B at the end of the year might have seemed like a long shot—at least to those outside the program. After graduating most of the starters from its last two section finals’ squads last spring, the Panthers came into the season with a host of new faces on the roster and seemed to be overlooked by the rest of the teams in the Class B landscape.
But senior captain Jack Sheldon, one of the few players who saw significant minutes last season, said that the team’s internal goals never changed.
“On the last day of the preseason, we had a meeting, and the first thing written on the board was ‘Win a Section Title,’” he said. “But I don’t think the rest of the section really thought that was going to happen, we were at the bottom of every [preseason] poll, so we just used that as extra motivation.”
The Panthers’ motivation was evident on the defense end, especially in the postseason. In four playoff games, Rye Neck did not allow a single goal and outscored opponents 7-0 in that time. Goalkeeper Guillermo Pons—who oversaw Saturday’s shutout—said that the Panthers’ defensive success is predicated primarily on its attention to detail.
“I attribute it to all the hard work that we put in every day,” Pons said. “We take pride in the little things, and overtime, those little things accumulate and we end up on this stage, the pinnacle.”
The Panthers would go on to beat Section IX champion Rhinebeck on in the state regional semifinals on Nov. 1