By Joseph Staszewski
PSAL girls’ soccer coaches applauded the league’s new division alignments, saying it will bring competitive balance and allow programs to grow in the Class A and B divisions.
“You want to challenge teams to play better teams so they get better,” Beacon Coach Kevin Jacobs said. “You also have to give them a chance to play games that are reasonably competitive.”
His Blue Demons have taken home the last two PSAL Class A titles and have won 56 straight regular season games. That streak will be put to the test now. With the new format, Beacon will have to face rival Bronx Science twice, including the season opener Sept. 7, as part of the new Bronx/Manhattan A-I Division.
It also added perennial Bronx second-place finisher Riverdale/Kingsbridge. Similar changes with teams moving down were also made in Queens and Brooklyn, and include crossover games between the two divisions in each respective borough.
Beacon and Bronx Science, which played non-league contests against each other the last three years, have squared off in two of the last three finals, splitting the meetings. At one time, the two were in the same division — Bronx Science handed Beacon its last regular season loss in spring 2008.
“The last couple years in the Bronx we have had an easy go of it, an easier time than we will this season,” Bronx Science Coach Annie Eckstein said. “I won’t have to work very hard to get them motivated.”
The Wolverines have gone unbeaten the last four seasons in the now-eliminated Bronx A Division. Their closest game last year was a 4-1 win over Riverdale/Kingsbridge and they had a 12-0 pasting of Truman. Aside from RKA, the rest of the Bronx went to the ‘B’ division along with all of Manhattan A-VIII.
Beacon beat teams such as Martin Luther King Jr. and School of the Future from that division by seven and nine goals despite using its bench for large stretches. In the two years of existence of Manhattan A-VII, only Lab Museum last season topped a team from Manhattan A-II. Truman Coach John Burke said he had players quit after the loss to Bronx Science.
“That second tier is perfect for us,” he said. “We feel like we have good young girls who can compete.”
Divisions in Queens and Brooklyn went through a slightly different overhaul. In Queens, Queens High School of Teaching, Newton and Richmond Hill dropped to the ‘B,’ leaving Queens A-IV and Queens A-V with five teams apiece. In Brooklyn, Prospect Heights, Tilden, FDR and Banneker moved down and James Madison was promoted to Brooklyn A-VII to form two five-team leagues. They play division squads twice each and, unlike in the past, a crossover contest against the other division. Staten Island A remains the same.
“It’s a big step by the PSAL,” said Long Island City Coach Mark Skorupski, whose team went 32-1-3 the last three years. “I’m really tired of being accused of running up the score. We are finally going to get to challenge more teams that are on our level.”
Brooklyn Tech and Grand Street won games by double-digit margins last season and Bayside, Francis Lewis and Long Island City had eight- and nine-goal victory margins as well. Brooklyn A-VII and Queens A-V were seen as second-tier divisions to its counterparts over the years and coaches felt seeding often reflected that. Now they get a chance to go head-to-head, make their own luck and break the monotony of playing the same teams over and over.
“It’s good [for our players] to see what’s happening in the other division,” Bayside Coach Maggie Kassimis said. “It will keep them on their toes and keep them hungry and keep them motivated and to play well day-in and day-out.”
Added Skorupski, “We are going to see who the best team in Queens is.”
The playoffs will remain similar. Fewer teams in total — 20 instead of 28 — will qualify in the ‘A,’ but a greater percentage — close to 60 percent — of the clubs playing at that level will reach the postseason. Divisions with five teams get three and those with six squads get four. There will be a greater number of ‘B’ clubs, as all those with a .500 record or better get in along with those that fit the ‘A’ criteria.
“It helps teams like ours to play stronger teams and prepare us for playoffs,” Grand Street Coach Andre Lamey said. “We would get a surprise and we would lose.”
Blowouts aren’t the only thing some coaches believe the division shifts will curtail. They may eliminate girls from piling up goals against weaker clubs like Bayside’s D.J. Glazer and RKA’s Summer Sofer were accused of last year, combing for 94 tallies.
“It helps the team overall, not just one player standing out scoring 50 goals, but as a collective team,” Lamey said. “Everyone needs to step up.”
That’s exactly what coaches expect to happen when the season gets underway.
“We are going to have some very exciting, close games coming up,” Skorupski said.