This is a printer-friendly version of an article from Zip06.com.Article Published November 24, 2019
The Old Saybrook boys’ soccer team went 35 years between state titles before winning the Class S State Tournament last fall. The wait for the next championship was significantly shorter as the Rams successfully defended their title in 2019. Old Saybrook claimed its second-straight state crown and the sixth in program history by earning a 3-1 double overtime win versus Holy Cross in the Class S State Tournament final at Veterans Memorial Stadium in New Britain on Nov. 23.
Old Saybrook finished its season with an overall record of 17-2-5 with the victory. The state final also marked the last game for Sam Barnes as Old Saybrook’s head coach following a 24-year run. All season long, Coach Barnes and Rams worked toward winning another state title. It means the world to Barnes that his team achieved that goal.
“Winning our final game together as a group was the goal. I was starting to wonder if it was going to happen for a while there, but I knew we had a quality team. We knew it was going to be a battle,” Barnes said. “We went back to back. Last year, it was kind of new. We didn’t do it for 30 or 40 years.”
No. 5 seed Old Saybrook and 3rd-seeded Holy Cross were locked in a scoreless tie until Colin Schulmeister scored a goal on an assist from fellow senior captain Shon Ryan in the 71st minute of the game. About two minutes later, Holy Cross tied the game by scoring a goal with 6:47 left in regulation.
The contest went to overtime, where Schulmeister netted his second goal of the afternoon by converting a penalty kick to give the Rams a 2-1 lead with 6:26 left in the first OT period. With 1:20 remaining in the second OT, junior Gannon Efinger solidified the victory by scoring an insurance goal that made it 3-1.
Old Saybrook was pitted against a formidable Holy Cross squad that features several players with excellent foot skills, especially in the midfield. The Rams have plenty of talented athletes in their own right, and it looked as though neither team would readily give in as Old Saybrook and the Crusaders battled through a scoreless first half. Holy Cross had a few scoring opportunities during the half, but Old Saybrook’s junior goalie Matt Rothman thwarted those chances expertly.
Senior captain midfielder Cooper Luciani knew that the Rams needed to take a bit of a different approach than in their previous states games, because they weren’t as familiar with the Crusaders’ formation. Still, Luciani and company were prepared for whatever Holy Cross threw at them.
“It was a lot of going back and forth and watching your man. They have a lot of people sliding out, because they play a two up top instead of a one up top,” said Luciani. “So, it was a lot of recovering back. I think a lot of the midfield had to work a lot harder than we usually do.”
After halftime, Old Saybrook came out strong and put several shots on goal. A couple of shots sailed just high of the crossbar, and Holy Cross goalkeeper Cameron Sivilla made a nice save on a Rams’ breakaway.
Eventually, Old Saybrook broke through for the first goal of the game when Ryan outmaneuvered a defender and made a nifty pass to Schulmeister, who shot the ball into the back of the net to put the Rams up 1-0 with 9:57 to play in the game. Holy Cross made it 1-1 when Chris Christiano scored the tying goal with 6:47 remaining.
Old Saybrook had faced a similar situation when it played Cromwell in the semifinal round. In that matchup, the Rams had a lead, allowed the Panthers to tie the score, but ultimately earned a 4-3 win in double overtime to advance to the final.
Ryan saw the similarities between the contests and was impressed with his team’s ability to come out on top in both of them.
“We’re a skilled team and a great team. We can always score, but after that, sometimes we let up. Those first five minutes after you score are when you are most vulnerable,” Ryan said. “Both the semifinals and final, they came back and scored on us. After we let that happen, we figured out that if we wanted to win, we would have to be the team that works the hardest. That’s when heart comes into play.”
With the score tied 1-1 at the end of 80 minutes of regulation, Old Saybrook and Holy Cross played a pair of 15-minute overtime periods to decide the state champion. Holy Cross had an early opportunity that was stopped by Rothman. After some end-to-end play from both clubs, Holy Cross was whistled for a penalty in the box at the 88:34 mark of the first overtime. Schulmeister took the penalty kick and sent it into the right back corner of the net to give the Rams a 2-1 edge. With his two goals in the game, Schulmeister was named the Most Valuable Player of the Class S final.
“I have a set spot that I normally choose and, in my head, I was thinking, ‘I sure hope this keeper does not go this way.’ Once I put in that PK, everyone said, ‘OK, no more. Nothing’s getting by us,’” Schulmeister said. “Honestly, I didn’t expect to do that much, but it turns out, I did, and we won the game. We were all focused, and we wanted to win this game.”
Holy Cross had another shot on a header that sailed high of the crossbar, and the Rams took their 2-1 lead into the second overtime. As the minutes piled up, Old Saybrook looked fresher on the field thanks to a deep bench and Coach Barnes’s effective use of substitutions.
“We were worried about their midfield. We knew they were solid, but we also knew they didn’t sub a lot,” said Barnes of Holy Cross. “So, we were going to try to run them and get them tired, and it definitely showed in overtime.”
The Rams put the game on ice when Efinger scored a goal that gave them a 3-1 advantage with just 1:20 on the clock. Efinger played a vital role as a physical presence in the midfield and scored his goal after winning possession in front of the Crusaders’ net. Efinger echoed Coach Barnes’s sentiments about the importance of draining the opposition’s endurance.
“During the season, Coach Barnes realized that I was stronger than most kids on the field. So, I just try to control midfield and tire out other players,” Efinger said. “We tried switching it up, because we knew they came out hard. So, we wanted to put all of our fastest and strongest kids in, and we just tried to run them into the ground.”
The Rams’ defense played a heavy hand in the victory. Senior captain defender Luke Hanratty was proud of the way his fellow defenders held their ground against Holy Cross’s skilled players.
“Going into the game, we knew who the strong players were, and we knew it was going to be a tough game and a challenge defensively,” said Hanratty. “We really focused on communicating together as a defensive unit, and it worked out. We let one goal in on a marking error, but other than that, it was really tight.”
Rothman made four saves in goal while facing 10 shots from Holy Cross. Both goalies had to deal with the sun in their eyes depending on which net they were defending, but Rothman knew that Old Saybrook’s defenders had his back.
“The sun was obviously a huge factor in the first half. With it being a one o’clock game, it was right in my eyes. It was a concern, but in terms of it being a factor in the game, our defense played great,” Rothman said. “Holy Cross wasn’t able to get a lot of balls up where I would have to look directly into the sun, but it didn’t really come into to play that much thanks to our defense.”
In the end, Old Saybrook authored a storybook finish for their outgoing coach by attaining the state title repeat. The fact that Coach Barnes got to share the moment with his son, senior Jonathan Barnes, made it all the more special.
Ryan said that there was no better way to reward Coach Barnes than bringing the state championship back to Old Saybrook for the second year in a row.
“It’s unreal,” said Ryan. “I feel like it was just meant to be after all the years that he coached and didn’t win a state championship. Now, in his last two years, he wins it back to back and with his son, too. It’s just a great feeling to be a part of it.”
• The Old Saybrook boys’ soccer team’s roster includes senior captains Luke Hanratty, Cooper Luciani, Shon Ryan, and Colin Schulmeister; seniors Jack Adams, Jonathan Barnes, Luke Brodeur, Jack Colella, Cody DeAngelo, Gino Gallitto, Garrett Hilger, Logan Hilger, Griffin Noack, Ben O’Dell, Ryan Powers, and Jayson Rankin; juniors Seth Adams, Avery Appiah, Zack Coty, Gannon Efinger, Carter Gibson, Gershon Jara, Trey Martin, William Perralta, and Matt Rothman; sophomore Nicholas Rothman; and freshmen Cameron DeAngelo, Bradley Kulmann, and Ryan Stratton.
• Head Coach Sam Barnes completed his 24th and final season as head coach of the Rams. Barnes’s coaching staff includes assistant coach Steve Waters and freshman coach Jake Battipaglia.
• Old Saybrook went 10-2-4 during the regular season. The team’s wins came against Portland (2-0 and 3-0), East Hampton (2-1), Newtown (4-1), Westbrook (4-0), Cromwell (4-1), Haddam- Killingworth (3-0), North Branford (9-0), Coginchaug (3-0), and Norwich Free Academy (3-0). The Rams lost games to Hale-Ray (1-0) and Morgan (1-0). Old Saybrook also earned ties with Old Lyme (1-1), Stonington (1-1), and Valley Regional (3-3).
• In the Shoreline Conference Tournament, No. 3 seed Old Saybrook notched wins over No. 6 seed Cromwell (1-0) in the quarterfinals and No. 2 seed Coginchaug (3-0) in the semis. In the final, Old Saybrook played Morgan to a 2-2 tie to share the league title with the Huskies.
• The Rams’ Class S State Tournament run started with a 4-1 win versus No. 28 seed Westbrook in the first found. In the second round, No. 5 seed Old Saybrook earned a 5-0 victory over No. 12 Wheeler. In the quarterfinals, the Rams defeated No. 4 seed Lyman Memorial by the score of 2-0. To advance to the final, Old Saybrook claimed a 4-3 double overtime victory against No. 9 seed Cromwell. The Rams went on to defeat No. 3 Holy Cross by a 3-1 score in double overtime to finish at 17-2-5 overall.
• This is the sixth time that Old Saybrook has won a Class S state title and ninth time the Rams advanced to the championship game. Old Saybrook defeated Morgan (2-1) in the 2018 final, Granby (1-0) in the 1983 final, and Coventry (2-1) in the 1982 final, shared the Class S title with Rocky Hill following a 1-1 tie in the 1979 final, and defeated Watertown (1-0) in the 1956 final. The Rams lost to Coventry (2-0) in the 2016 Class S final, were defeated by Cromwell (2-0) in the 1998 final, and lost to Windsor Locks (2-1) in the 1994 final.
• Several athletes earned All-Shoreline Conference and All-State honors for the Rams this year. Colin Schulmeister earned All-Shoreline First Team honors and was also named Shoreline Conference Player of Year. Shon Ryan also made the First Team. Earning Second Team recognition for Old Saybrook were Gannon Efinger, Matt Rothman, and Cooper Luciani. Head Coach Sam Barnes was named the Shoreline Conference Coach of the Year. Schulmeister and Ryan also garnered All-State accolades for their contributions this season.