Mepham claims county championship

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When you’re the county’s leading goal scorer, sometimes the ball just finds you.

That’s what happened in the ninth minute of Nassau Class A boys’ soccer championship game Oct. 30 at Mitchel Athletic Complex, when a ball off the foot of Mepham’s Connor Buehler rolled past the Garden City keeper and deflected off the right goal post, landing in front of Andrew Weiner.

Weiner buried it for his 22nd goal of the season, and it was all Mepham would need.

“I was lucky to be there,” said Weiner after the game, smiling as his team and classmates celebrated the 1-0 victory and the program’s first-ever county crown. “It’s insane,” he added. “I’ll never have this experience again and I’m loving every bit of it.”

It was nearly a repeat of the third-seeded Mepham’s semifinal victory over No. 2 South Side five days earlier, also a 1-0 final, when Weiner, a Nassau County Player of the Year candidate, scored the decisive goal 3:30 into the game. “You get that early goal, it gives everyone a moment to breathe,” Mepham coach Zach Gosse said. “We can kind of relax and we’re not stretched at the [end] and trying to squeeze up and score a goal.”

But the victory was far from stress-free. While possession was evenly distributed in the first half, with Mepham and defending Long Island champion Garden City trading scoring opportunities, the majority of the second half was spent on Mepham’s side of the field. The top-seeded Trojans mounted pressure all half, forcing Mepham to alter its formation to bolster their defense.

But they stood firm.

Garden City, which had scored three goals or more in 10 games this season, had difficulty setting up their offense against Mepham’s suffocating defense. Drives were often stifled just past midfield, and Mepham turned aside several of Garden City’s advances, never letting their opponent establish a rhythm.

The closest Garden City came to tying it was in the 79th minute, when sophomore Nick Prime located a perfectly placed corner kick in front of the net, but a header attempt by junior Ethan Senatore sailed over it. Mepham keeper Louis Luparello, for his part, stopped all nine Garden City shots, including a sliding save to stop a breakaway attempt by junior Owen Heaney in the first half.

The key to Mepham’s stout defensive effort in the face of constant pressure, said senior Kieran Gilroy, was communication. “It was pretty stressful, but we always talk,” Gilroy said. “We organized the middle and we were fine.”

Supporters from both teams made their presence known throughout the game, as an enthusiastic crowd comprising mostly of students cheered on their respective schools. But in the game’s final seconds, with Mepham dribbling out the clock on the Garden City side of the field, it was the Pirates’ side of the bleachers that cheered the loudest.

It was a moment that Gosse knew was possible when he inherited a team of mostly underclassmen three years ago and watched them develop over time into a cohesive unit. With 13 seniors on their roster this year, Gosse knew it was this group’s last chance to achieve something special.

“I came into the program three years ago as a rookie coach with no high school soccer coaching experience, and this is a really special group where we were able to develop and work on things for three years now,” the coach said. “It’s a culmination of coaching, them working in the offseason and all year long, and it’s all just coming together at the right moment. Honestly it’s like a magical feeling.”