The Marathon Olympians boys soccer team went on a historic run this season, going 19-0-1 en route to the first state title in program history.
In 32 years of coaching boys soccer, Chip Stewart has been victorious over 400 times. Never on the last day of the season, though. But this year was special. The Marathon Olympians, led by a strong core of seniors, dominated opponents all year long to go 19-0-1 and win their first state title in program history.
It was a muddy 1-0 victory in Middletown on Sunday over the Mount Academy Eagles that sealed the deal. The Eagles were coming off a 2-1 victory over Chazy, who knocked the Olympians out of last year’s state tournament.
Even with players slipping and sliding all over the grass field, Stewart had his team more than prepared for a sloppy game.
“I love turf, but I’m a grass guy,” Stewart said. “Although that field wasn’t the greatest, both teams had to play on it. We’re mudders and it showed today. Most of the time, when we have inclement weather, everyone goes inside, but I refuse to. We’re out there practicing in mud and slosh and you get used to it.”
The goal was scored after Cameron Neilson, who set the school record for most goals in a season (39), drove into the corner and crossed the ball in to the box. The ball skipped between the legs of a defender, and Ian Gacek was in the right spot, sliding forward with his left leg extended to punch the ball into the back of the net. With 14 minutes remaining in the first half, the Olympians had a lead that they held on to for good.
“Good for Ian,” Stewart said. “Ian struggled a little bit at times this year but he’s hung in there and worked hard. I told him that this is the best game he’s had in probably four or five games for us.”
Gacek explained how he saw the play develop before knocking home the eventual game-winner.
“I saw Cameron [Neilson] running down the line and the ball was just going across and I sprinted as hard as I could, found an open spot,” Gacek said. “Then I tried to get it past the goalie and it worked.”
Defense has been a specialty for the Olympians this season, allowing just five goals in 20 games while they scored over 100. Leading the way defensively was sweeper Andrew Tillotson, who was named both the championship game MVP and the IAC MVP. Tillotson was the last line of defense, and protected his goalie, Kenyon DePuy, all season long.
“Andrew is very steady and he’s a very calming influence back there,” Stewart said. “He doesn’t get too excited emotionally, up or down. He has the ability to clear the ball with both feet. And I’d put him against anyone in the air. He has a way of winning the ball in the air. And the one panic sequence, you saw who came out with the ball, it was Andrew Tillotson. He’s played great all year.”
Another aspect of this Marathon run that has truly been special was the support of the fans. Whether the games were home or away, the Marathon faithful lined the sidelines and overflowed the stands.
“That’s what small town stuff is about,” Stewart said. “We’ve had a very supportive community for our athletics. Particularly for me and the soccer team for a very long time, so it’s been awesome.”
Stewart stated that he’s had outstanding teams all throughout his 32 years of coaching, specifically in 2006, when the Olympians fell in the state semifinals in penalty kicks. But he explained what made this team special.
“This team had outstanding chemistry,” Stewart said. “They played for each other, for the we not for the me. And we had the holy trinity. A great scorer up front who had the ability to find the net and really put pressure on defenses in Cameron [Neilson]. We had outstanding midfielders with Diego Castellot in the middle and Braeden Morrison on the side. And then our defense was unbelievable.”
That defensive core consisted of seniors Jared O’Shea, the aforementioned Tillotson, Owen Hoyt (who replaced the injured Nicholas Allen), goalie Kenyon DePuy, and junior Joey Hulbert. Their performance this year was a testament to the old adage, defense wins championships.
“You can’t hide defenses,” Stewart said. “We allowed five goals and had 16 shutouts. That doesn’t happen on accident. You can’t hide that, you’re either good, or you’re not. Sometimes you find that kid that can put the ball in the back of the net, sometimes you win 1-0. We scored 110 goals this year and only let up five. That’s pretty darn good.”
It was a storybook season for Marathon and a complete team effort that led to the historic win. After 32 years of coaching, this team was finally the one that allowed Chip Stewart to call himself a state champion.
Dan Doherty is the lead play-by-play broadcaster for ESPN Ithaca and Tompkins Weekly’s sports reporter. You can follow him on Twitter at @DanDohertyESPN. Listen back to the Olympians’ historic season on our Podcenter.