Mayor's Cup returns to four local teams and two events in 2019

JARED BOMBA | The Daily Star In these 2018 file photos, at right, SUNY Oneonta's Nick Dillmann shields the ball during a Sept. 22 match against SUNY Fredonia. At left, Hartwick's Dana Caputo throws in the ball during a Sept. 29 game against Alfred State.

For the first time in fourteen years, Oneonta is hosting two Mayor's Cups, each featuring a pair of hometown teams.

While the Hartwick and SUNY Oneonta women's programs have long shared a tournament, 2019 marks the first time since 2005 that the men's programs will compete in the same event.

The crosstown rivals are not scheduled to meet during the weekend, instead playing opposite fixtures against Penn State-Harrisburg and St. Lawrence.

"Having three tournaments with 12 teams, especially with the men's tournament split, it just kinda dilutes the whole weekend," Oneonta men's coach Iain Byrne said. "To roll back to two tournaments with the colleges involved competing against each other, it'll get back the tournament back to where it was with people following it all across the northeast."

The three-tournament setup began in 2006 after Oneonta's men's program moved from Division I to Division III following the 2005 season. Since then, the Red Dragons and Hawks have not competed in the same Mayor's Cup, with separate events for Division I and Division III teams.

The Hartwick men's program reclassified to Division III before the 2018 season, and only two Mayor's Cups were played with the discontinuation of the Division I men's tournament. But the Hawks were not part of the festivities in their first season in the new division.

Carrying a squad of 16 into the weekend, 10 of them freshmen, Hawks coach John Scott downplayed the weekend as a measuring stick for his program. Hartwick went winless in 2018, and Scott noted that his young team likely does not grasp the history of the tournament.

“I’m not playing in the games, I’m coaching in the games. My team can only give what my team can give,” said Scott, who played one season at Hartwick in 1996 before returning as head coach in 2010. “The Mayor’s Cup is a home tournament so there’s always going to be a buzz around it. But in terms of being ready or not ready, we are only in our second year. This year, are we ready? I don’t know.

“You want to have two teams playing in Oneonta, and have two teams in (SUNY) Oneonta and Hartwick be two solid teams so whoever the (visiting) teams are, it’s good competition for them,” Scott continued. “We'll be looking to give the best show possible and as the years go in, the guys will learn what it’s all about.”

Top programs are again coming to town for this year’s tournaments. On the men’s side, St. Lawrence and Penn State-Harrisburg are the visiting squads. St. Lawrence is 1-1, but reached the NCAA tournament in 2018 and is a perennial power in Division III. The Saints also won the 2018 Mayor’s Cup.

Harrisburg is 1-2, with one loss coming to DIII powerhouse Messiah, but the Nittany Lions have put together three consecutive winning seasons.

Prior to 2018, Byrne’s Red Dragons had won four straight Mayor’s Cups dating back to 2013. Oneonta enters the weekend 2-0, looking to test itself and its postseason aims.

“It’s gonna be another tough journey,” Byrne said. “St. Lawrence beat us last year, and they are always one of the top three teams in the region, so it has NCAA ramifications. That is always entertaining, attacking football, and Penn State-Harrisburg is building a powerhouse program.

“We got a good start this year and we need to build on that. Mayor’s Cup is always a good yardstick for us,” Byrne said.

Scott approaches the weekend with a larger perspective. Despite earning the program’s first win since 2017 with a 2-1, season-opening victory against Farmingdale State, his view of progress is longer, and his expectations tempered.

“For the team, their mood is good. From the coaching staff, we can put more perspective on it because Farmingdale aren’t necessarily a strong team,” Scott said. “It’s a win, and don’t get me wrong we are delighted about it, but there are going to be harder games.

“Last year was a means to an end, putting a team on the field, and this year is about progress,” Scott continued. “We are already ahead of the curve, but this weekend is going to be a different kettle of fish.”

With the men's tournaments split, the women's programs have carried the distinction of putting both local programs in the same event. The Hawks and Red Dragons have never met in the Mayor's Cup, despite the event's history dating back to 1999 on the women's side; they have typically played a non-conference match later in the season. But the schools have often shared venues during the weekend.

Oneonta coach Liz McGrail is in her 13th season leading the program after previously representing the Red Dragons as a player.

“It’s one of the more exciting weekends of soccer. It’s a nice way to kick off the year in Oneonta, with the history of the Soccer Hall of Fame here, and SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick with a rich history in soccer,” McGrail said.

On the women’s side, Susquehanna enters at 1-1 with an NCAA tournament appearance in 2018. Clarkson is 3-0, including wins over SUNYAC teams Brockport and Potsdam.

The Hawks won the 2018 Mayor’s Cup, but Susquehanna took the title in its last appearance, the 2017 edition. Hartwick comes in at 2-0 after notching a pair of 1-0 wins in the Erinn K. Brozman Cup, which it shared with Utica. 

“Yes, we had two good results, but just from that weekend alone there were a lot of things we identified to work on,” Hartwick coach Brian Knapp said, noting that he has eight freshmen, seven of whom will contribute. “Having the success that Oneonta has had over the past decade, and our more recent success, teams want to come here and have a challenge.”

McGrail’s team comes in at 0-1 after a season-opening loss to sixth-ranked Misericordia. The Red Dragons last won a share of the Mayor’s Cup in 2016.

“We're young. Like really young, but talented,” McGrail said of her team. “They work really hard so it’s a fun thing, and who knows? There’s a lot of potential and it's really early.

“Because of the history of the tournament, good teams want to come here. We want to give the fans a great weekend of good soccer, but also, we want our non-conference schedule to get us ready for the postseason early on.”

The women’s teams open play Saturday at 12:30 p.m. as Oneonta hosts Clarkson and Hartwick welcomes Susquehanna. The visiting teams switch venues for a pair of 12 p.m. kickoffs Sunday.

Men’s play begins Saturday at 4 p.m. with St. Lawrence heading to Red Dragon Field and Harrisburg climbing to Elmore Field. Opposite fixtures are set for Sunday at 3:30 p.m.

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