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With state title, soccer players taste success

By Eugene Rapay

Members of the soccer team stand on a trailer as the parade heads south on Warburton Avenue.


HASTINGS — An outburst of emotion followed the final horn at Middletown High School on Nov. 13, a life-changing night for the Hastings boys’ soccer team, which had just won the Class B State Championship by defeating Section III champion Westhill, 3-1.

The Hastings players had dreamed of claiming the state title, but never envisioned how they would react when it was theirs.

"I just started crying tears of joy, which I’ve never done before in my life,” said Andrea Russo, one of four senior co-captains. "Everyone was jumping around and hugging each other. I ran into Oscar [Pereira] — who was to my right — he was crying, and we just started hugging. Jumping around with everyone, it’s the happiest any of us have probably ever been."

Hastings High School has had talented teams in its history. The school’s gymnasium is festooned with banners listing league and sectional titles for different sports. However, no individual or team had ever brought home a state championship.

"Personally, I’ve had a lot of relatives that went to Hastings and played a lot of sports,” said Nate Constantine, another senior co-captain. “To be the only one with a state championship, that’s pretty awesome.”

The Village of Hastings honored the newly crowned champions with a parade on Saturday, Nov. 19. Residents lined Farragut Avenue, Broadway, Warburton Avenue, and Main Street as police cars and fire trucks escorted the 21 soccer players, most of whom stood on two trailers. The four senior co-captains — Russo, Constantine, Alex Bourgeois, and Jackson Silverstein — rode in a convertible.

The team’s victory lap had started as soon as they walked into school on Monday, Nov. 14. They were met with fanfare from classmates, teachers, and even strangers turned big-time fans.

"I feel like a celebrity in the hallways,” Constantine said last week. "All the kids come up to me, congratulate me. I see middle schoolers — I don’t even know their names, but they’re chanting my name as I walk by. This feeling is surreal."

Last season, the team made a deep run that halted in the state final four. The bitter defeat was used as motivation during the off-season. Their goal was to not only return to the state final four, but to win it all. This time around, the team got the job done, finishing with a 19-1-1 record.

"Last season, when we lost, our season ended. We lost; it was done,” Russo said. “This year, winning, you feel like your season is not over. I think in a week or two it’ll set in."

The detail-oriented Yellow Jackets had a hard time adjusting to their championship reality. After the initial celebrations on the field, the first part of the bus trip back to Hastings was more analytical than upbeat.

"On the ride home, when they had just won a state championship,” head coach Fred Sandhop said, conversation turned to how the team let their opponents score a goal. “They were all, 'How did that happen?' They wanted to know where the coverage broke down, who lost their mark, and how did that ball get into the back of the net. From the start, they demanded perfection from each other and weren’t settling for anything that wasn’t perfection."

The discussion became lighthearted after they crossed the Tappan Zee Bridge and exited in Tarrytown, where police and fire vehicles waited to lead them back to Hastings. The sirens drowned out post-game scrutiny and replaced it with jubilation.

The term “champion” took a while for some team members to absorb. If Saturday’s parade didn’t quite make it official, there were more stops on the Yellow Jackets’ triumphant tour to drive home the idea. After the parade, the team was treated to dinner at the Candlelight Inn on Central Avenue in Scarsdale by Hastings alumnus Ali Marpet, a lineman for the National Football League’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Although Marpet, who graduated in 2011, could not be there, his agent represented him.

The Hastings School Board and the Westchester County Board of Legislators also plan to honor the Yellow Jackets.

"Honestly, it’s a little tiring,” Silverstein told the Enterprise, laughing. “But you get motivated to go out — not just for us; we do it for the fans. That’s what we think this is for. We got our state title already. We just want to have fun with everybody else, let them have fun with it."

The finishing touches to the fanfare will be raising the first state championship banner in the high school gym. It could be the beginning of a renaissance and a winning tradition.

"I don’t want to be the only one up there,” said Sandhop, who has coached the program for 10 years. "I would love to see baseball. I’d like to see our boys’ basketball team, who also had a good run in years past, join us with a state championship. Let's put Hastings on the map so people can say, 'Hey, you know what? They really are an athletic bunch.’"

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the Rivertowns Enterprise. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.


November 25, 2016

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