High Flying Hawks

Tommy Garafola fends off an opponent during the team's game against Bard College this past weekend.

For the 2011 season, the New Paltz Men’s Soccer team already knows they are capable of defeating opponents who higher-ranked than they are. A win against nationally-ranked Stevens Institute of Technology on Sept. 4 proved to the Hawks that they are capable of much more than what their opponents expect of them.

“At our lowest we struggle to score or get that last pass in the final third,” said fourth-year midfielder/forward and Captain Tommy Garafola. “At our highest, we can play with the best teams in the country.”

This season, the Hawks welcomed Gene Ventriglia as the new Head Coach of the program. Ventrglia, an alumnus of SUNY New Paltz and a U.S. Olympian during the 1968 summer games, came out of retirement to coach the team. Ventriglia had previously been the Head Coach at the United States Military Academy at West Point for the women’s team.

“I  retired from another position a while ago,” said Ventriglia. “I kind of got lured back into coaching…New Paltz is my alma mater and I always wanted to come back here. As a coach, I really enjoy watching their games, the quality of the team is great.”

Ventriglia was not yet the head coach when the schedule for the team was made and said that the schedule is “very, very difficult.” The team started off their season by facing two nationally-ranked teams, Stevens and Montclair University. The team lost to Montclair, but the win against Stevens was, as Ventriglia said, “probably the biggest win in the program’s history in a long time.”

“But you can go at the other team’s field and beat them at home especially when you’re short-handed and it’s a big win,” Ventriglia said. “The game was very contested and very physical and they (Stevens) were mad because I think Stevens knew that we were going to beat them. So every little tackle…that was big.”

The win at Stevens was important not just because the team beat a top team while short-handed , but because Ventriglia believes that one of the team’s biggest weaknesses is their difficulty winning away games. Ventriglia believes this is because the group has difficulty adjusting to different fields and are in a different mindset when they are not at home.

The team will combat this weakness by putting forward a “very skilled, very big and very graceful” team. According to Garafola, second-year goalkeeper Conor Power is second to none in the SUNYAC.

“Our key strength that keeps this team running is our back third,” Garafola said. “Conor Power is top in the conference, is protected by a veteran back four, Brendan Ujvary, Jamal Lis-Simmons, Robbie Wexler, and Nicky DiPaola, as good as any back four in the region and is finished off with Defensive Center-Mid Joey Emberger.”

Garafola will be leading the Hawks’ offense in his final year with the Hawks. As Ventriglia described him, Garafola “could play on the next level, he is that good. He is a self-motivating guy. He works all the time and he’s made himself a tremendous player.”

Also leading the offense with Garafola is fourth-year forward Jimmy Altadonna. Altadonna, who scored the game-winning  goal in the game against Stevens, is expected to have a “tremendous” final year with the Hawks. The Hawks’ front line also consists of first-year midfielder Brian Spina and third-year midfielder/forward Shanshe Khosroshvili. Khosroshvili, originally from the Republic of Georgia, is who Ventriglia says will be the “X factor” during the Hawks’ games this season.

Ventriglia said that with a team full of fourth-year students, their goal has to be to win the SUNYAC Tournament at the end of the season.

“This team needs to make the post-season tournament,” said Ventriglia. “It’s a given. We have to. They’re good enough to do that. It’s a senior-laden team and they only have one more shot. That’s it. And I think they will really do believe that they can do it. I’ve been to tournaments many times and anything can happen once you get there.”

Garafola not only wants to get a home game for the team, but  because there’s another group of people that he and the rest of the team are looking to please if they make the tournament.

“We aspire to win our SUNYAC games during the season so we can host the playoffs and have our fans, which are the best in the world, root us on, on our home turf,” said Garafola.

The next game the Hawks will play at home will be against Union College on Sept. 17 at 1 p.m.