As the final whistle sounded in the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS) championship game on Sunday, November 7, Kyle Benson ’22 was overcome with emotion.
The glow of the scoreboard said it all: Masters 2, Hackley 1.
It was a historic achievement for the varsity boys soccer team, which secured its first-ever NYSAIS title before a throng of loud and proud purple-clad supporters.
"My mind flooded with emotions," Benson said of his immediate reaction following the final whistle. "I was crying tears of pure joy. I couldn't stop the flow of emotions as I was approached by dozens of friends, alumni and teammates."
Benson found a moment of calm in the eye of a raucous post-game celebration, embracing fellow senior Daniel Medina on Manhattanville College's turf field.
"We spent so much time manifesting the idea of being champions and leaving behind something that the School will never forget," Benson explained. "The team has worked so hard this year, and I've spent years dreaming of putting a banner in the FC (Fonseca Center)."
Consider it a smashing success.
Masters (12-1-3) turned in another dominant performance against rivertown rival Hackley, leaning on its airtight defense and clinical offense. Daniel Heller ’22 buried both goals, using his top-flight pace and deft finishing ability to create chances on the left wing. Heller opened the scoring at the 39-minute mark, blasting a shot past a screened Hackley keeper and into the lower right corner of the net. He doubled the lead roughly nine minutes into the second half, corralling a precise cross from Demi Oni ’23 before slipping a shot just inside the near post.
"I harnessed my speed and my left foot to execute my goals," said Heller, who also praised his teammates for giving him opportunities to succeed.
Heller instantly entered his name into Masters lore.
"Being able to create a name for myself in my new school, and in the athletics program that is now a part of the School's history, is something truly special for me," he said.
Hackley's lone goal came on a penalty kick at the 52-minute mark. The Panthers' defense clamped down from that point on, coming together as a unit to thwart Hackley's speed up top. It was another lockdown performance in a season of them for Masters, which did not relinquish a goal in the run of play during the three-game NYSAIS tournament run.
The defensive core of Henry Eisenbeis ’23, David Ferrando ’23, Marco Ferrando ’23, Gabriel Guerrero ’24, Noah Kassell-Yung ’23 and Adul Samon ’23 flexed their muscles all match, refusing to be denied the hardware as the pressure mounted in the second half.
"We have been playing together for the last two months, and these last games reflected that true connection," said David Ferrando, the unit's ace center back. "It's all about communication, starting from the players on the field to the coach on the bench. We were able to keep each other organized, and with this, we can win any game."
This was the second major Masters soccer championship for the Ferrando family. Luke Ferrando ’19, who was in the stands at Manhattanville cheering on his younger brothers, helped the Panthers capture the Fairchester Athletic Association crown in 2016-17.
"I remember myself imagining that same moment when I turned his age," David Ferrando said. "Winning something this big doesn't happen a lot, so doing it with my friends couldn’t have been a better way to do it."
Masters reached the final after a pair of victories over UNIS (2-0 in the quarterfinal on November 3) and Riverdale (2-0 in the semifinal on November 5). Against UNIS, Benson and Nate Dyott ’22 tallied one goal apiece. Medina and Benson each scored once against Riverdale. David Medina ’23 was a threat in the midfield all tournament, helping the Panthers win the possession battle. Like in the final, both the quarterfinal and semifinal matches saw a huge swell of support from the Masters community.
And the outpouring of love wasn't lost on the players.
"Friends, peers, teachers and parents supporting us ... it gave us immeasurable amounts of energy," Benson said. "Even when we were in school or had a day in between games, the amount of motivational support the team received was incredible. It is truly a testament to the collaborative and encouraging community here at Masters."
The Panthers went on to lose a hard-fought match against Rye Country Day School in the Fairchester Athletic Association semifinals on Thursday, November 11. RCDS narrowly secured the win in penalty kicks after the two sides played to a 2-2 draw through regulation and overtime. Amechi Aduba ’22 and Benson each scored to help Masters overcome an early 2-0 deficit.