The three-peat was within reach. On Saturday in Middletown, the Lansing Bobcats boys soccer team dominated the 21-0 Keshequa Indians in the New York State Class C Semifinals to reach the state championship game for the third consecutive year. In the finals on Sunday morning, the Bobcats met the top-ranked team in the state, the Rhinebeck Hawks.
The Hawks had not reached the state tournament since 2014, a year in which they won it all. But this season was a special one for them, going 19-0-1 and shutting out the three teams they had faced in the tournament heading into the championship game.
Lansing had its hands full, and it took the team a while to get going against a strong Hawks defense anchored by sweeper Collin Murray. Lansing senior Mason Edwards, a member of the Bobcats’ two championship teams, explained the struggles of playing against Rhinebeck’s formation.
“They played diamond-style [defense], so they had a sweeper, and basically any fly ball we tried got eaten up by the sweeper,” Edwards said. “We couldn’t really do anything about it, so we had to adjust our play, and it never worked out.”
In the 19th minute of the first half, Rhinebeck set up for a corner kick. Offensive leader Noah Lortie was on the ball and sent it curling towards the net. Sophomore goalkeeper Tomas Vence punched it out of bounds to give the Hawks another try at a corner kick.
The second attempt bounced off of a few players before finding its way back to Lortie in front of the corner flag. He sent a cross in that found the head of Nakoa Zuger, who sent it off the crossbar. Fortunately for him, it came right back to Zuger, and his second header found the back of the net to put Lansing in a 1-0 hole at the midway point of the first half.
With Lansing still struggling to generate possessions, they were forced to figure something out down a goal. The Bobcats’ patented style of offense was not going to be the key to victory.
“They were extremely physical and wouldn’t let us play our possession-style game, and we couldn’t play our little through balls like we always do,” Edwards said. “It took 35 minutes or whatever for us to get one shot. I think it was our only shot of the game.”
While the Bobcats were only able to force Rhinebeck goaltender Brendan Hines to make a save with five minutes remaining in the first half, they came out much stronger after the halftime break.
Edwards was moved from midfield to striker in an attempt to generate offense, and it worked. The game was no longer being played in Lansing’s defensive third with their backs against the wall. However, through all the pressure Lansing was putting on Rhinebeck in the second half, a clean shot on goal was not found.
“It just took us a while to change our style of play, and I think that’s why we were so successful in the second half,” head coach Benji Parkes said. “We tried to change it once we went down 1-0, realizing that possession wasn’t going to be it today. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t get one when we needed it.”
The clock struck zero, and Lansing’s dominant run of consecutive state championships came to an end. With that came the end of the high school soccer careers of a strong senior class consisting of 13 players. Four of those players were fortunate enough to experience both championship runs beginning in 2017.
“This senior class is special,” Edwards said. “Me, Matt [Weil], Joe [Besemer], Ethan [Burt] have been on this team since we were sophomores putting in all the minutes. We’re just a good group of guys because we’ve all been playing together since we were 5. Honestly, it’s special being with them”
Coach Parkes also reflected on his senior class.
“This senior class has been great,” Parkes said. “They’ve got at least one state title and they’ve been part of a run these past four years where we’ve been able to make it to the last weekend. They continued to set the bar high and they left it all on the field, which I think is important. They’re good role models, they’re good people, and they’ve done it the right way.”
Heading into this season, Lansing lost a few key pieces from their championship teams including goal-scoring threat Langston Hopkins and IAC MVP Erik Goehler. At times in the regular season, the three-peat seemed like a pipe dream, but the Bobcats ended up just one goal short in the end.
“Even though we lost today, nobody really expected us to be here,” Edwards said. “I’m just happy with that because we weren’t expected to make it to the championship game. We were supposed to lose in regionals or something. ... Even though we lost, I’m happy.”
Lansing ends its season with a 16-3-2 record and Bobcats heads held high. All of the seniors will move on familiar with that rare feeling of holding a state title, even if they were one goal short this year.
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