Sports

Another strong season being built upon the rock

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Andrew Fitzgerald has a little superstition.

At the start of the second half of every home game, the Riverdale Country School boys soccer coach likes to escape from the craziness of his team’s bench and enjoy a little “me-time” on top of a large boulder on the side of the Falcons’ field. It’s kind of Fitzgerald’s 10 minutes of zen.

“That’s my rock,” Fitzgerald said, laughing. “I just like to start the second half watching from there. It’s my little zone, my little getaway from the city.”

It also gives Fitzgerald the perfect view of a team that looks to be a contender for the New York State Association of Independent Schools championship again this season. That title game has become something of a regular end-of-season destination for the Falcons in recent years after winning it in both 2014 and 2015 before losing in the championship game to Trinity.

And it’s that loss that’s fueling what Fitzgerald thinks might be the best team in his 10-year tenure with the Falcons.

“I’ve had nightmares about that loss,” said Fitzgerald, whose team has also won the last three Ivy League titles. “But this year, talent-wise, this is the most talent I’ve had on one roster. These 22 guys, everyone can play. This is the deepest team I’ve had here in my 10 years.”

Riverdale is off to a 5-1 start to its season, the lone hiccup coming in the 3-2 loss to Hackley. But since then, the Falcons have responded with a convincing 5-1 victory over Collegiate, and now the 4-0 shutout of Fieldston.

Just the latest evidence the Falcons are on a mission to reach that NYSAIS title game again, and come home with a win.

Ryan Chuang, a four-year senior starter, thinks there is something special about this squad.

“For the last three years we’ve had amazing teams here,” said Chuang, who scored a pair of goals over Fieldston. “We’ve won the league three years in a row. But I think this team has something different. I think we’re more together as a team. I think we have a lot of camaraderie, and I think that makes the difference between a team that can win the league or one that can win the championship.”

And like Fitzgerald, Chuang also remembers how it felt losing that NYSAIS title game last season.

“I thought about that loss for a long time,” he said. “We were all really sad after that game. I remember that night I went home and I was almost in tears. But now that we’re back, I really feel like we have a good chance to win it this year.”

And while that little bit of news is surely not welcomed by the rest of the Ivy League, the worse news is that this Riverdale program is set up to win not just this year, but for many seasons to come.

“We have two varsity teams,” Fitzgerald said. “We have a B team that plays a whole other schedule than us, and then we have our A team. We also have a JV team. We have 63 players in the program.

“I don’t like to make cuts, so if you come out, you play. So everyone plays, and they keep developing and getting better. I’m looking out for next year and the year after that.”

It’s a far cry from the state the program was in when Fitzgerald took over a decade ago.

“We were horrible the first two or three years,” Fitzgerald said. “But now it’s very strong. We have three teams, and a team in the middle school as well. I also teach soccer to second- and third-graders in the winter and spring. I like to try and find them early.”

And it’s all paying off handsomely for the Falcons as they look to add some more hardware to their trophy case this season.

“Every single kid on this team can score a goal or make a great pass,” Chuang said. “Even if all our stars were out, I think we’d still be able to do really well.”

And despite their strong start to the season, Chuang thinks the Falcons are just scratching the surface of how formidable they can be.

“Every year our team has gotten better as the year went on, and it’s the same this year,” Chuang said. “I can see the progress from the start of preseason to now. But we still have more room to improve.”

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