LE ROY — Playing soccer in a notorious football town can’t be easy. Sure the spotlight isn’t on the team as much, so the pressure isn’t always there, but then again, when the team accomplishes something, is there anyone there to see it?
Fall in Le Roy won’t be the same this year without the Oatkan Knights playing on the Hartwood Park football field; however, the boys soccer team is more than ready to try and take their place. The Knights are hungry, they are returning a majority of their roster from last season and they are looking to make a run that a Le Roy team hasn’t made in a while.
“I’ve been quite excited,” senior Nick Vallese said about having the lights being shined on the pitch a little more this fall. “You’re right, football is our main thing but I think that since people have nothing better to do I think that they could come and support us which would be a great step-up to our game.”
And while it’s been a number of up-and-down seasons in recent history, this Le Roy team seems to have a little bit of a swagger about them. And being the only game in town, they know that there are some expectations to perform this year.
“I think that they enjoy that. When they walk around school their heads are high and when there are days like today, where there is nothing but soccer, it brings a certain vibe to the season,” longtime head coach Bob Hammer said. “I think they’re putting in the effort to show the appreciation that they will get to play.”
For some of the guys, just being able to get out with the team and play again when there was a good chance that they wouldn’t be able to is the best part. Until practice started last Monday, it was still a bit of a guessing game as to what was going to happen. Now it all feels somewhat normal again.
“It ecstatic, being out here and being to play with the guys again, it’s a great feeling after being locked up for six months inside,” senior goalkeeper Kenny Saunders said. “I think we can be amazing. The sky’s the limit for us because we have all these guys returning and we’re all such a tight-knit group that with our chemistry I think we’ll be able to do whatever we need.”
Last season Le Roy would finish the year at 9-9 with a loss in the Section V Class B2 quarterfinals, but the Knights felt that they could have done a lot more. This fall they should get the chance to show it.
Led by a collection of experienced seniors, this group is eager to prove what they can do.
Vallese leads the way back for the offense after he paced Le Roy with 14 goals and three assists last year, while fellow seniors Ben Herrick (four goals, five assists) and Landon Callabrese (two goals, three assists) are looking to take that next step with their games.
Senior Saunders also returns in goal where he has been a mainstay between the pipes, with another fantastic campaign as a junior.
Sophomore Maveric McKenzie is also coming back after he finished with two goals and three assists as a sophomore, while a number of talented players from the JV squad will also be up for full varsity seasons in 2020.
“This year we just need that little more,” Vallese said. “And I think working together, with all these returning guys, will help our chemistry even more and working together every single day and mostly just playing together, is going to help us improve and hopefully take that step to the finals and help us get that patch.”
For Hammer, who is entering his 13th year at the helm, this certainly has not been the easiest of his years to start off, but it hasn’t been all bad either.
“There’s just a real feeling of gratitude out here and you can really just sense it with the guys, a real camaraderie and they’re just happy to be around one another,” Hammer said. “As a coach it’s great to see that because it starts to pick you up and give you that energy as well.”
With the lack of football, the team has also picked up a trio of players who would normally be in the gridiron in Nate Andrews, Alex Panepento and Tyler Strollo, but even without those three this would be an interesting roster to say the least.
With the football players, Hammer is going to have to try and juggle a team of 26 guys and some players may not get the playing time that they likely normally would because of the roster size.
“We added three that played football last year and were looking to play another sport this year. And I appreciate that, we’re glad to have them. And they bring a different dynamic,” Hammer said. “But what I did from the beginning was ask for their (the team’s) cooperation. I said this is an unusually large team and we want to have a good experience for everybody and I’m going to need their help to be a part of it. And they’ve really done that.”
The Oatkan Knights will start their season on October 7 at Wayland-Cohocton, the first game of a campaign in which everyone involved feels could be special.
“What you’re seeing here today is the teams that get to go a little further in sectionals and get those winning records are the teams that are putting in the work and believing in one another,” Hammer said. “This group here, they’re working very hard, they want to be a part of that team that goes further in sectional play and they want to be a part of team that has a winning record. But it doesn’t come easy.”
The Oatkan Knights were just one win away from a stunning sectional title last season. And there is no reason that they couldn’t make another run there yet again this season, and possibly get that coveted block.
At just one win over the .500 mark heading to the postseason, Le Roy came all the way from the No. 7 seed to advance to the Section V Class B2 championship game before the Oatkan Knights dropped a heartbreaker to top-seeded Avon.
Le Roy was that close, and now with an opportunity to play this fall, it is primed and ready not to fall short once again as the Knights will be returning the bulk of their roster from last season’s finalist team. “For my players, tasting success last year definitely helped motivate and push them,” head coach Reilly Schwenebraten said. “Last year was eye opening for them as far as our potential and I think the girls are excited to see what this year holds.”
Schwenebraten will be entering her fifth year at the helm of the program and has had Le Roy in the mix for an LCAA divisional title each season. Last year Le Roy went a solid 10-7-3 and will be bringing back its top two scorers from 2019.
While Le Roy will being without a pair of solid seniors in Kiaya Condidorio and captain Katie Charmichael, Schwenebraten will have a ton of weapons at her disposal this fall.
Leading the way back will be the likes of Maddie Keister, Bryn Luckey, Amara Condidorio, Bella Condidorio, Ellie Dambra, Kailyn Tresco, Emilee Scott, Keri Biggins and Megan Benware, all who have had vast varsity experience in the past few years.
Keister and Luckey were the team’s leading scorers from a season ago as Luckey led the team with 13 goals, while Keister led the team in total points with 10 goals and eight assists.
Amara Condidorio added six goals and one assist, while Biggins allowed just 1.3 goals per game and had a save percentage of nearly 88.
Over the past three seasons the Oatkan Knights have gone a more than respectable 29-21-5 and appear on the brink of taking that next step this fall.
“We’re looking forward to getting back on the field and proving that we have what it takes to win,” Schwenebraten said. “I’m hoping that the taste of success from the postseason last year will fuel the fire we’ve needed in order to show our teams true potential.”
The Oatkan Knights girls squad finished in just 12th at the sectional championship last season but was 15-4 overall and they return one of the top runners in Class C in sophomore Charlotte Blake as they look to take a step forward with a team that is still relatively young.
Blake finished third in Class C last season with a time of 20:16.2 (she was also third at the GR/LCAA Championship), while juniors Taylor Hutton and Gabrielle Slivinski and sophomores Lydia Cone, Tara Monagan and Reagan Kemp will also come back this fall.
Le Roy will also return sophomore Ashley Totten, who missed last fall with an injury but had an impressive winter track campaign.
The Le Roy boys were also toward the back of the pack in a tough Class C but will be bringing back some talent to the trails this season.
Junior Erik Schwab finished 12th in Class C with a solid time of 18:17.7, while senior Keaton Hobart took 46th with a time of 19:31.5.
Add in sophomores Aiden Soggs and Ian Kepple and junior Zach Flansburg and the Oatkan Knights have the chance to make up a little ground in Class C.