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Senior captain Jack Green is a leader on defense for the Hand boys’ soccer team this season. The Tigers have a record of 2-0-1 through their first three games of the year. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
Junior Chris Porte and the Tigers posted victories over Branford (5-3) and North Haven (7-1) in last week’s matchups. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
Junior Jason Wallack and the Hand boys’ soccer squad are striving to claim the program’s fourth-consecutive Class L state championship in the 2019 campaign. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
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When Greg Cumpstone became head coach of the Hand boys’ soccer team prior to the 2018 season, the Tigers had already won back-to-back Class L state titles. Last year, Cumpstone guided Hand to its third-straight state championship with an overall record of 16-2-3, capping off the campaign by defeating Maloney 1-0 in the state final.
Now, three games into a new campaign, the Tigers are sporting a mark of 2-0-1 after earning a tie with Guilford, along with victories versus Branford and North Haven. While there is still a long way to go, Coach Cumpstone said that his athletes are well-versed in the great expectations that come with competing for his team.
“Our kids are aware of that,” said Cumpstone. “It’s not something you can hide from them. They’re not in a bubble.”
It’s a rare feat for any team to win three-straight state titles in Connecticut high school soccer. During the last 40 years, Avon and Guilford are the only teams that have done so. The Tigers certainly want to make it four in row this fall, although Cumpstone doesn’t want his club to look too far ahead.
“You can’t afford to do that,” Cumpstone said. “If you begin to lose focus on your next game, that’s any easy way to play poorly and suffer either a loss or maybe pull out a tie.”
Hand has been on the road for its first three games of the season. The Tigers played Guilford to a 2-2 draw in their season opener on Sept. 14, notched a 5-3 win at Branford on Sept. 17, and claimed a 7-1 victory at North Haven in its SCC Housatonic Division opener on Sept. 20.
Cumpstone felt that Hand was “pegged back” in its game versus Guilford, meaning that the Tigers were losing possession a little too much and not getting enough continuous play in the Indians’ end of the field.
“We played about 50- to- 55 minutes of very good controlled play against Guilford. Then we slipped, they got two goals, and the lead,” Cumpstone said. “We were able to rally and gain a tie.”
Cumpstone saw traces of the same thing early on in the Branford game, but the Tigers were able to stave off the Hornets and come away with the victory.
“We scored some late goals to put it away,” said Cumpstone.
Senior Matt Fermo and junior Eli Davies have been splitting time in goal for Hand. Davies got the nod in the Guilford game, while Fermo manned the net against Branford.
Coach Cumpstone said that defense will be a strength for his team this season. Senior captain Cole Finke, a three-year starter, joins fellow senior captain Jack Green and juniors Chris Porte and Matt Luongo on the Tigers’ back line.
“I’ve always been a believer that good soccer teams work the ball short from their keeper to the backs, who need to move it forward to the midfielders,” said Cumpstone. “Then when you get a few touches in the mid area, you can open up play for your forwards. Good possession always comes from shorter passes and control.”
Hand features its fair share of talent in the midfield. Senior Jack Wilderman, junior Sean Burke, and sophomore Lucas Vest are leading that unit for the Tigers.
Up top, senior captain Spencer Hartmann, senior striker Scott Testori, and junior Jason Wallack are Hand’s primary forwards.
The Tigers are also receiving key contributions from substitute players like senior Ethan Coe, who can fill in just about anywhere; as well as senior defender Carter Soboleski, junior defender Mike Wehrle, and junior midfielders Ryder McMurray and Daven Pelaez.
Hand will be dealing with an even harder schedule throughout its quest to claim a fourth-straight championship. Cumpstone knows that there are no cakewalks when you’re living life in the Southern Connecticut Conference.
“Because we did so well last year and won our division, it made our schedule this year even tougher,” Cumpstone said. “It gave us games with Fairfield Prep, Shelton, and Branford. Now you throw in some other good teams like Jonathan Law, West Haven, and North Haven, and it never gets easy.”
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