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WNY's good legwork Boys teams aiming to build on success

After last boys soccer season, Clarence's Mike Silverstein got a call from a fellow Western New York coach:

"All of us coaches take pride in what all of you guys did," the coach told him.

Clarence was at the forefront of the best postseason ever for Section VI. Clarence (Class AA), Kenmore East (A) and East Aurora (B) all advanced to the state semifinals, marking the first time that Section IV sent its three largest classes to the final four. Clarence and East Aurora both went on to lose in the state championship.

Last year's performance also continued recent success for Section VI in the Far West Regionals, the round which determines the representatives at the final four in the state's five classes (the largest is AA, the smallest is D).

With last season's three wins, Section VI has now won eight of the last 15 regionals against soccer-strong Section V (Rochester area).

While 8 of 15 is the minimum advantage one section could claim, the history of competition between the neighbors shows why winning more than half of the games is certainly notable. The eight victories over the last three years equaled the number of wins Section VI had the previous 12 years (1994-2005).

So with those kind of numbers, has Section VI boys soccer caught up with Section V?

"I think we've closed the gap," said Silverstein, whose Red Devils achieved a Western New York record national ranking (22nd) after losing to national No. 1 Brentwood of Long Island in the state final. "They're always a measuring stick. Rochester is still a little step ahead of us, I believe. But we've got them nervous, let's say that."

Even that would be significant, if only because the rivalry between Section VI and Section V has been so one-sided.

Section V holds a 93-25 advantage in the all-time regional series since state tournament competition began in 1979. For five straight years -- 1995 to 1999 -- Section V went 20-0. Last year marked just the third time that Section VI won a majority of regionals. The states have expanded from three classifications to four (1986) and then five (2004).

"Rochester is such a great soccer district -- they have so many kids go on to play on college rosters," said 10th-year East Aurora coach Kevin Beale. "We're catching up through good coaching and good summer programs and good players. Those regional games [against Rochester] can be looked at as the hardest game you'll play. Just knowing that our own region has had past difficulties, it's a great milestone to states.

As in most sports, coaches point to offseason training as a reason behind the success.

"A lot of kids are training year-round, and a lot of summer clubs are great at training through the winter and playing indoors at good facilities," said Beale. "So our kids are catching up [with Rochester] the last five to eight years."

That kind of improvement has been evident in premier league teams from the Buffalo area doing well, as well as local soccer having more of a presence at the Empire State Games, not only in the amount of regional representation from the Buffalo area but by the success on the field.

After years of Western region scholastic-aged teams dominated by Rochester players, recently there have been more and more representatives from Buffalo. There has also been success on the field -- prior to the 2009 Games being canceled, Western won medals in five of the last six Games after medaling just once in the previous six.

Another major factor is that the players make sure to connect that summer play with their fall soccer season.

"I attributed [the recent success] to all of Western New York getting better, and kids are taking more pride in their team at school," said Silverstein. "My team has captain's practices all summer long, and so do other schools -- Kenmore East and East Aurora do too. They take pride in their school, they continue to work together. Even though they work with different [club] teams all summer, they find a way to get together to be ready for the start of the high school soccer season."

And when the teams at the front succeed, that can lead to a trickle-down effect throughout Western New York's soccer fields.

"Last year we played a game against Williamsville North and won, 1-0. Then we go on to the state final and play the No. 1 team in the country and lose by one goal," Silverstein said. "All these kids can take a look at that and say, 'We can play that well, we can measure up to that.'

"And it wasn't just one team squeaking by to the states, it was three teams, and two to the finals. That's just a confidence boost locally, and a little more pride for Western New York soccer."

e-mail: kmcshea@buffnews.com

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