When the bus carrying the Vikings boys soccer team arrived back in Port Washington, head coach Don Fish stood up to address the team.
“I know it hurts now, and you will feel this for a few days,” he said. “But you have accomplished something that nobody in Port has accomplished.”
The team had just lost a state semifinal contest. But it had advanced farther than any Port soccer team — boys or girls — in history.
“I’ve gotten emails and texts from alumni, former players and students who live in Florida and Oregon and Connecticut,” Fish said. “They were pretty enthused.”
Fish has served as the head coach for the boy’s varsity soccer team for nine years. He was an assistant for four years before that and spent several years as the soccer coach at Carrie Palmer Weber Middle School.
Last year’s squad had a better regular season record than the 2018 team, but Fish said that doesn’t always matter in a single elimination tournament.
“Any team can beat any other team once on one day, and not all sports play out like that,” he said. “If you have a big, fast group of football players, they’ll find a way to wear down the other team. Soccer is an odd, organic, and sometimes unfair sport where it’s difficult to score a goal and you can be susceptible to a little slip or blip, and then they have one in the back of the net.”
Last year’s team was a high-scoring bunch but crashed out in the second round of conference playoffs, losing to Syosset in a rain-soaked game.
Fish said there isn’t a ton of carryover year to year — “you have a different experience each season” — but the team was brought together by its two captains, senior Savvas Christoforou and junior Jack Friedman.
“Those guys were the anchors and the engine,” Fish said. “That’s a bit of a mixed metaphor, but they held the team together.”
Still, the Vikings had to battle through the regular season, losing to a few teams that “we should have beaten,” according to Fish. Port Washington finished fourth in the conference and needed to win a play-in game to make the playoffs.
“We had to play an extra match, but in the end I think it might have helped us,” Fish said. “It was something to build on.”
After dispatching Oceanside, the no. 8 seed Vikings took on top-seeded Syosset in a rematch of the game that eliminated Port in 2017. After battling through regulation, the Vikings pulled ahead on an overtime goal from Douglas Barerra Yanes. A few days later Port trumped Farmingdale and capped an impressive run in Nassau by winning the county title in a 1-0 victory over Massapequa.
A few days after their county title, the Vikings took on Whitman for the Long Island championship. Tied 1-1 with only minutes left to play, Christoforou curved a direct kick toward the goal, which fellow senior Charlie Gilsenan headed into the back of the net to give Port a 2-1 victory and the Long Island title.
The Vikings could not find the back of the net during the state semifinal in Middletown, where they were defeated by Erie County’s Clarence High School 1-0. The team’s fantastic run had come to an end, but Fish said he could not be prouder.
“Our team goal was to get to the county final, and we went beyond that,” he said. “We had lots of great kids who were nice and worked hard to make each other better.”
Reach reporter Luke Torrance by email at email@example.com, by phone at 516-307-1045, ext. 214, or follow him on Twitter @LukeATorrance.