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Boys' soccer team wins Big 10 title, advances to Class AA quarterfinals

A chance to crash the party.


That’s the way the Times Union summarized Albany High's playoff chances in its midseason report on Section II boys' soccer in early October. And that's what coach Dave Weiss and the Falcons worked toward again this fall – preparing for a 2011 playoff run that would break the decades-long Suburban Council stranglehold on the Class AA championship.


Led by talented seniors Marty Ryan and Stefano Sainato, the Falcons' party preparations included their second Big 10 championship in the last three years (that's them celebrating with the trophy after their final regular-season game Oct. 24). 


They clinched the title with a well-played 1-0 win at second-place Troy on Oct. 22, setting off a jubilant celebration when Sainato scored his 20th goal of the season with 2:52 left in the second overtime.


Tricky fall weather took over for the next couple of games. The Falcons closed the regular season with a scoreless tie in the rematch with Troy on a rainy night Oct. 24, then had their first-round game against Saratoga Springs snowed-out on Oct. 29.


None of that mattered when the playoff opener finally came Halloween night.


Sainato set up Thang Moung for a score less than eight minutes in and then added two more first-half goals of his own to lead Albany High to a 3-1 win over the Blue Streaks at The College of St. Rose's Plumeri Sports Complex at Hoffman Park. Check out the Nov. 1 Times Union to read more about the win.


Less than 24 hours later the Falcons were back on the field on a gorgeous fall afternoon Nov. 1 to face Suburban Council fourth-seed Guilderland in the quarterinfals at Colonie High School.


The Dutchmen scored twice in the span of about one minute midway through the second half to send the Falcons to a season-ending 2-0 loss. The Falcons (13-4-1) played the Dutchmen evenly most of the afternoon but could not break through to score. Click here to check out photos from the game.


In addition to the Big 10 title this fall, the Falcons' party preparations also included two closely contested non-league losses at Utica Proctor (3-1) and 2009 Class AA state champion Newburgh Free Academy (2-0) -- currently tied for No. 20 in the statewide rankings -- as well as a pair of evenly played preseason scrimmages with perennial local powers Shen and Bethlehem, ranked No. 7 and No. 13, respectively, in the final regular-season state Class AA poll.


“We’re right there,” said Weiss, whose first Albany High team in 2007 became the first Big 10 team since 1982 (also Albany High) to reach the Class AA semifinals. “We deserve to be there.”


Meanwhile, the Albany High JV boys also won the Big 10 title -- for the fifth consecutive season under coach Andy Hasty. The JV Falcons finished undefeated in the conference for the second year in a row led by a talented group of sophomores and leading scorer Erick Kwizera, a freshman.


For the varsity, in 2007 the Falcons outlasted Suburban opponents Colonie and Saratoga Springs to reach the semis, where they fell 1-0 on a late goal to eventual champion Niskayuna. With strong senior leadership, that team willed itself to those two overtime playoff wins and within a whisper of the final.


Two years later, after an unbeaten Big 10 season, the Falcons beat Columbia before falling to Guilderland in the second round. Led by a suffocating defense and again strong senior leaders, that team exceeded expectations to get within one win of returning to the final four.


This year, fueled once again by a strong group of seniors, the Falcons showed up for preseason practice in August looking ahead to November.


“This year we are meeting expectations,” Weiss said. “But the expectation is much higher.”


That was due in large part to Weiss’ dynamic duo, Ryan and Sainato, two of the area’s best players.


Ryan was a first-team Times Union all-star and a fourth-team all-state selection as a junior. He began the season at his familiar center midfield position – his third year as a varsity starter there – but moved back to defense in a midseason realignment to shore up the back in front of sophomore goalie Lucas Phayre-Gonzalez.


That move paid dividends.


With Ryan anchoring a revamped defense that also included senior Seamus Daniels and German exchange student Johannes Grunow, the Falcons shut out seven of their last eight Big 10 opponents and outscored their conference opponents 30-1 in that stretch.


Up front, Sainato was one of the most lethal scorers in the Capital Region. Supported by Albany High’s deepest and most talented group of midfielders in many years, Sainato finished the regular season tied for sixth in the area with 20 goals. The Times Union featured Sainato on Oct. 25; click here to read that story. He finished with 22 goals in 17 games.


“Both boys are terrific young men; hard-working, dedicated, humble,” Weiss said of Ryan and Sainato. “They are very driven this season to achieve on and off the field. They are arguably the top two players in the Big 10 and will be extremely difficult to replace after graduation.”


And then another group of Falcons will begin working to crash the 2012 Class AA soccer party.


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