LEE -- The Lee High School boys soccer team picked up its third win of the season Friday, falling behind by a goal in the first half and rallying with a pair of scores to defeat New Lebanon (N.Y.) 2-1.
A good win, according to new coach Frank Murphy. But when your season was as close to the brink as the Wildcats’ season was, every win is a good win.
Diminishing numbers, coupled with the lack of a head coach, nearly sank the Wildcats’ program this fall. Head coach Matt Kollmer resigned, and four of the team’s five returning seniors opted not to return, in part because of the uncertainty of the fate of the program. A team that was already low in numbers was on the brink of extinction.
That it didn’t happen is a testimony to Murphy and Lee athletic director Art Reilly, who didn’t want to see one of his teams vanish.
"We had a situation where the [former] coach left, and there was some uncertainty in the program," said Murphy, whose son Luke is on the team. "Most of the seniors quit, and I don’t blame them. They’re seniors, and they wanted to play a fall sport. But it left us very thin."
"We lost four seniors," said fullback Jake Simon. "All good players."
Included in that group were goaltender Heamon Williams and John Graziano, the team’s leading scorer and one of the best scorers in the county. Both are now on the football team.
Simon said he never considered leaving.
"I’ve been playing this sport since I was four," he said. "I love it. I would never quit."
Still, the core of the team was gone. Reilly and Murphy began actively recruiting players at Lee.
"I think Mr. Reilly did a great job," said Murphy. "We managed to get enough kids to field a team, although a lot of them haven’t played before."
Included in that inexperienced group is Murphy, whose roots are in hockey, not soccer.
"Art said he liked the job I did keeping the team together, and asked me to stay on," said Murphy.
"I’m more of a hockey person, but I can convey concepts," he added. "It’s about passing and being unselfish. I know what I want to see when I’m coaching. But I have to admit, I take a back seat to every other coach in the league."
Well, Murphy and his team are doing pretty well so far. The Wildcats are 3-4, and Simon believes the record could be better.
"We should be 5-2," he said. "There were at least two games where we had the lead, and our defense gave up a couple bad goals."
The were no bad goals Friday. New Lebanon’s talented forward, Justin Bingham, dodged and deked his way down the field and punched in an early goal.
But after that, Simon and his teammates kept a sharper eye on Bingham, and limited his shots and chances.
Meanwhile, Lee’s offense was putting tremendous pressure on the visitors. Simon cleared a nice ball to junior Nick Pow, who carried it right down the left side and scored to knot the game just before halftime.
"I controlled the ball and got by a couple guys," said Pow. "It was a pretty easy goal."
New Lebanon goalie Tom Finley prevented any more damage with some very strong saves, until late in the second half. Lee’s Jose Mejia skittered along the touchline, like a tightrope walker, and punched in the game-winner at close range.
There probably should have been a few more. Pow in particular made several long runs upfield in the second half, but didn’t convert.
"Our offense is the strength of our team," said Pow. "We’re improving every game."
An intriguing thought for the rest of the league.