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Allegany-Limestone’s Zach Luce (2) celebrates with teammates after scoring a first-half goal against Olean during a CCAA West boys soccer matchup on Tuesday night in Allegany. With 10 starters back, the Gators’ expectations remain as high as ever in 2021.

Jon Luce had an up-close look at this group for years; now it’s their time to lead the Allegany-Limestone boys soccer program.

Luce’s son, Zach, is one of 10 juniors on the A-L roster this year who, along with seven seniors, make for an experienced group looking to replicate or even build upon the success that prior Gator teams have had.

“We’ve had this group of kids playing together for quite some time now,” Luce said. “The juniors themselves have been playing together since they were five or six years old in different youth leagues in the area, and then mixing them in with the seniors that we have this year, it’s been really nice to see them developing their skills over the last two years and coming together, working together on the field as a team. It’s been really nice seeing them play as a unit.”

The Gators return 10 of 11 starters, including their leading scorer, Chance LaCroix (16 goals, 12 assists, CCAA West MVP last year); top defender, Huddy Kwiatkowski (the 2021 Corporate Cup New York boys MVP); and goalie Jack Conroy, who had 12 shutouts last fall during a 14-3-2 season.

With a 4-0 win over Olean Tuesday in CCAA West play, A-L continued its perfect start: the Gators won their Gator Cup tournament to start the year and have outscored teams by a total of 20-0.

“The defense is playing pretty well, keeping teams limited with their scoring opportunities,” Luce said. “The midfield’s coming together and the offense has been producing, so that’s always good to start the season off. We need to make improvements in certain areas but hopefully as we go through the season we can learn a little bit from each game and hopefully implement those things that we need to improve on.”

LUCE acknowledged coaching his son has challenges — he wants to make sure he treats him the way he would any other player — but watching Zach and his classmates play together for years has been rewarding.

“It brings different challenges having your own kid on the team,” he said. “But I’ve been with him and his friends since they were playing in the younger youth leagues in Allegany-Limestone soccer when they were three and four years old. It’s been quite a ride coming all the way from that.”

Luce’s teams have made eight sectional finals since 2005, including four consecutive Section 6 Class C championship wins from 2014-17. The last two years, the Gators have made the sectional final, but fell in one-goal games to Eden (2019) and Fredonia (2020). A-L plays in Class B2 this year.

While each year the Gators set “benchmark” goals, such as winning their home Gator Cup tournament, claiming their league and sectionals, the top goal has remained the same for years.

“Each and every year no matter what the team makeup is, we set our goals very high,” Luce said. “Our school’s never made it on the boys side to the state final four: we’ve been stuck several times at the regional game, so every single year that we’ve been doing this our ultimate goal is to make it to states.”

Of those benchmarks, he added: “Our goal is always (to) make it further than where we’ve done before and we just haven’t been able to make it there yet. We always have that kind of circled on where we want to go but we haven’t achieved it yet.”

A-L ISN’T the only Cattaraugus County school embracing high expectations this year. Portville is not only coming off an impressive 7-3 season in which coach J.J. McIntosh won the Times Herald’s Big 30 Coach of the Year, but a hot start in 2021 has earned the Panthers some regional and state-wide recognition. The latest Western New York Coaches Poll had Portville seventh among small schools (A-L is fourth), tied with Maple Grove.

With its first league victory on Tuesday, Portville is now 4-0-1, including two tournament wins: the A-L Gator Cup “small school” bracket and the Olean Tournament. Portville tied Hornell on Saturday but won the tournament on penalty kicks.

“I had kind of mentioned to the boys that … I think the time of us flying under the radar is probably done,” McIntosh said, referring to the two tournament wins. “I imagine that teams are going to at least be on the lookout of what we’re able to do this season and I imagine they’ll be paying attention to our success so far and maybe on the lookout for us moving forward.

“I think that when you get the recognition that these boys deserve with their play, it also comes with a responsibility or a test almost each game because now our opponents are looking at us on their schedule and knowing that they’ve got to play a good game and we’ll probably get the best game out of everyone we play now. No one’s going to be taking us lightly and we’re going to have to bring it for every game because everyone that we play will be trying to bring their best.”

COMING OFF a CCAA East title last year and with a team loaded with upperclassmen, McIntosh has close to as much experience as he’s ever had.

“When I first started coaching at Portville, they didn’t have a varsity program for a couple years,” the 12th year coach said. “I ended up with a bunch of kids that were mostly juniors and a few sophomores. And I was able to spend the next basically better part of two years working with the same group that I was going to have back. They remind me a lot of these kids. I’ve had a huge commitment from the parents, of course the players themselves, for several years where every opportunity that I would present them or even they would come to me to play to get better. We’ve been doing tournaments, we did a league up at Sahlen’s (Sports Park) in Elma. But this is the group that has been going pretty steady and very dedicated now for several years.”

Portville has 12 seniors and seven juniors. The Panthers, who play in Class C in the postseason returned seven starters from last year but McIntosh was pleased with the competition that arose in replacing the graduated players.

“We graduated a few on defense but we were pretty deep in the fact that the kids that were going to replace them were (for) one of the very few times in my coaching career in Portville, we have multiple kids that are competing for positions,” McIntosh said. “There are some good players that are not starting for me and that’s definitely not the case that I’m used to in Portville. The expectations are definitely high because we have a large group returning. I think a lot of the younger guys know that this could be a great opportunity to make some noise hopefully within our section.”

A capsule look at the 2021 Cattaraugus County boys soccer teams:

ALLEGANY-LIMESTONE

Coach: Jon Luce (16th year, 234-41-16)

League: CCAA Div. I West

2020 record/postseason: 14-3-2; Wilson (W, 3-0, Sec 6 Class B2 quarterfinal), Royalton-Hartland (W, 2-1, OT, Sec 6 Class B2 semifinal), Fredonia (L, 1-0, Sec 6 Class B2 championship)

Roster: Huddy Kwiatkowski (sr., D), Chance LaCroix (sr., MF), Logan Andrus (sr., D), Maddox DeLong (sr., D), Tyler Curran (sr., MF), Josh Graham (sr., MF/D), Jacob Marino (sr., MF/F), Jacob Marino (sr., MF/F), Zach Luce (jr., MF), Jack Conroy (jr., GK), Mason Deming (jr., MF/F), Henry Brairton (jr., MF/D), Tyler Griffin (jr., D), Tyler Griffin (jr., D), Eric Spring (jr., F), Ryan Roulo (jr., MF), Anthony DeCapua (jr., MF), Tony Bates (jr., MF), Matthew Rohrabacher (jr., MF/F), Sean Conroy (soph., MF), Cooper Wilczewski (8th, MF)

ELLICOTTVILLE

Coach: Matt Finn (18th year, 149-155-15)

League: CCAA Div. III East

2020 record/postseason: 8-5-1; Maple Grove (L, 3-2, Sec. 6 Class C Semifinal)

Roster: Kaleb Kilby (sr., F), Isaac Alexander (sr., F), Aiden Privitera (sr., MF), Ignacio deOrbe (sr., MF), Jacob Ballard (jr., D), Caedon Wyatt (jr., F), Yahir Velazquez-Garcia (jr., MF), Bryce Wood (jr., D), Bryan Grundy (jr., D), Sam Edwards (soph., MF), Aiden Harrington (soph., MF), Aaron Loguidice (soph., D), Mason Perks (soph., D), Evan Bauer (soph., GK), William Benatovich (soph., MF), Emmett Jacobson-Coolidge (soph., D), EJ Doherty (soph., MF), Ben Edwards (fr., D), Owen Doherty (fr., F)

From the coach: “We have limited varsity experience on this year’s team. We have only 1 returning starter and 5 returning players, but we will be fast and athletic.”

OLEAN

Coach: Jim Charles (24th year, 202-173-32)

League: CCAA Div. I West

2020 record/postseason: 4-7-1

Roster: Aaron Aiello (sr., D), Quintin Allen (jr., F), Ellison Ash-West (sr., D), Thomas Bates (jr., F), Maxwell Bee (sr., MF), Trevor Crouch (soph., D), Brody Frame (fr., F), Bryce Franklin (soph., MF), Andre Fratercangelo (soph., D), Josh Gardiner (jr., GK), Stephen Hoffman (sr., MF), Drew Johnson (jr., GK), Dominik Kahle (sr., D), Al Linderman (soph., MF), Camden Pancio (fr., MF), Karsten Stadtler (soph., MF), Max Wolfe (sr., D)

PIONEER

Coach: Sarah Lawson (5th year, 24-37-3)

League: ECIC Div. III

2020 record/postseason: 4-9

Roster: Aidan Ameis (sr., D), Cooper Bekiel (fr., MF), JT Carmody (jr., MF), Josh Chitty (jr., F), Zach Coppola (sr., MF), Evan Heckathorn (fr., MF), Seth Higgins (jr., D), Colin Hughes (sr., MF), Gabriel Kempf (soph., F), Aeddon Landphair (jr., D), Owen Mason (fr., D), Ethan Metlak (soph., D), Braydon Miller (sr., D), Landon Shultz (soph., D), Zander Terhune (jr., D), Caden Waite (sr., GK), Jake Wiseman (sr., MF), Lucas Witter (soph., MF)

PORTVILLE

Coach: J.J. McIntosh (12th year, 76-96-11)

League: CCAA Div. III East

2020 record/postseason: 7-3; Chautauqua Lake (L, 1-0, Sec. 6 Class C Semifinal)

Roster: Kyle Mathes (sr., MF), Brady German (fr., MF), Christian Gariepy (sr., MF), Sam Korsa (sr., MF), Drake Kavanaugh (sr., MF), Kevin Eberth (sr., D), Michael Cole (jr., F), Michael Long (sr., F), Nick Harmon (sr., F), William Smith (jr., D), Joe Randolph (jr., MF), Todd Stone (sr., D), Thomas Carls (sr., D), Cole Faulkner (jr., D), Nathan Petryszak (sr., D), Bryan Randolph (jr., MF), Joel Stives (jr., D), Aidan Cole (sr., F), Lucas Scanlon (jr., D), Troy VanSickle (soph., GK), Zach Buckner (sr., GK)

SALAMANCA/CATTARAUGUS-LITTLE VALLEY

Coach: P.J. Peterson (16th year, 93-154-10)

League: CCAA Div. III East

2020 record/postseason: 1-8

Roster: Lucas Barber (sr., D/GK), Kodi Colton (sr., GK/MF), Tristan Duhan (sr., F), Kaleb Holcomb (sr., D/MF), Kendell Valvo (sr., D/MF), Jorden Ambuske (jr., MF/F), Mikey Beardi (jr., D), Brien Funke (jr., MF/F), Andrew Herrick (jr., MF), John Matteson (jr., MF/D), Jonathan Wiltsie (jr., GK), Matt Benzel (soph., MF), Kyler Colton (soph. F/GK), Ray Fantaske (soph., F), Christian Horn (soph., MF/D), Gabriel Redeye-Desposito (soph., F), Tyler Deppa (soph., MF), Alex Crowell (fr., MF/F), Sage Eschborn (fr., MF), Ben Seiflein (fr., MF/F)

From the coach: “This is a good group of hard working players. We lack experience heading into the season but our attitude and effort has been good so far. Our success will depend on our older players setting a good example and maintaining a positive attitude. If we can be mentally tough we can be successful.”

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