Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a five-day series looking at great sports rivalries in the area. Check back on Tuesday for the next article.
Rivalries are created from compelling affairs between two equals on the field or court of play. Championships are won, hearts are broken and memories are created that last forever.
Maple Hill is dubbed the “soccer academy,” given its success over the last 25 years in Section II, Class C with 16 titles. Greenville are the up-and-comers, destined to rise from the Wildcats’ shadow and dethrone them.
Two decades ago, Greenville was an afterthought in Maple Hill’s soccer spectrum. Ten years ago, they were the baby brother still chasing the juggernaut. However, in 2012, baby brother fought back and now Greenville is no longer in Maple Hill’s rearview mirror, but standing tall, face-to-face with the Wildcats as the two cross-county foes battle each season in compelling affairs to determine who is the best team in the Patroon Conference and Class C.
“When Ichabod Crane left the Patroon Conference, Maple Hill lost its biggest rival from the regular season schedule,” said Dave Austin, Maple Hill’s athletics director. “I think part of what makes league play so great is having those types of rivalries that Ichabod Crane and Maple Hill had.”
As Ichabod Crane waved goodbye to the Patroon Conference and bolted for the Colonial Council in 2010, the Wildcats were left without a primary competitor.
Enter the Greenville Spartans.
“Greenville stepped into that role in large part because their athletics program was on the rise. This led to many competitive games in soccer, basketball and softball,” Austin said.
During the 2016-17 basketball season, Greenville defeated Maple Hill twice before the the No. 14 Wildcats upset the No. 3 Spartans in the first round of the Section II, Class C tournament.
In 2016, the Spartans and Wildcats danced in the Section II, Class C softball final. The Lady Spartans and Lady Wildcats split the season series, before Greenville won the rubber match, 9-8, to capture the Class C championship.
However, the rivalry burns brightest on the pitch, with the stakes of each game higher than the last.
“As for the rivalry in boys soccer, I think it’s become so important because not only have Maple Hill and Greenville been at the top of the Patroon Conference, but the Class C sectional championship has resided in Maple Hill or Greenville in each of the last three seasons,” Austin said.
However, there was a point in time when this was never a rivalry at all, and Greenville was never on Maple Hill’s radar, or in their conference.
Up until 2001, the Greenville Spartans competed in the Schoharie County League against the likes of Schoharie, Middleburgh and Berne-Knox-Westerlo.
The first game between the two teams took place on Sept. 24, 2001 with Maple Hill reigning victorious 2-1. That started a chain reaction of 23 straight victories spanning across an entire decade.
In 2004, Maple Hill and Greenville met three times, twice during the regular season and one more time in the postseason.
With a trip to the Section II, Class CC semifinals, it was a David versus Goliath matchup featuring the number six team in the state versus an 8-9 Greenville squad.
After shutting down Maple Hill in the first half and quieting the spectators, proving they were not going to be rolled over by Maple Hill, the Spartans surrendered a goal to Kyle Laine 55 ticks into the second half. That goal ended up being the game-winner for Hill to send them to the semifinals.
Maple Hill held a 15-4 shots on goal and 7-2 corner kick advantage.
“We went a long time before they could beat us,” Maple Hill coach Dan Gillespie said.
With 23 consecutive wins — 12 being shutouts — Greenville seemed destined to wallow in Maple Hill’s shadow. However, in 2012, the rivalry shifted gears.
“I would probably say when the Statham brothers came through is when it really started,” Gillespie explained. “They started beating us quite often and it was with Sam and his older brother [Connor].”
“In 2012 it was my first year as an assistant in Greenville, [and] the key to turning the tide started with travel soccer,” current Catskill coach Dennis Statham said. “I had many of the boys playing since they were very young with my older son Connor and my younger son Sam.”
Travel soccer was the key ingredient in Greenville’s recipe to defeat Maple Hill.
“I think one of the things that has helped me is that they got into a youth program and travel team and those kids learn soccer at a high-level and that’s where Maple Hill has been for a long time,” Gillespie explained. “I think the big difference the last couple of years has been that more kids from Greenville are playing at that high level in the offseason than Maple Hill, so we kind of dropped down a little bit, where they have excelled quite a bit and things have evened out.”
On Oct. 12, 2012 Greenville traveled to Maple Hill and played as if the 0-23 was non-existent. With a new coach Kevin Lewis, along with Statham assisting, the Spartans flipped the script on the Wildcats.
With 27 minutes remaining in the second half, Sam Statham sealed the deal with a goal to grant Greenville a 2-0 victory, snapping the losing streak.
“I can remember this goal like it was yesterday. It was only a tap in from the top of the six, but it was the spark of a very successful career I was about to begin for Greenville soccer,” Sam Statham said. “This goal, at the time, was the best moment of my life. The emotions behind it for my entire team, including celebrating with my brother, Connor Statham, was the defining moment in my young career.”
Two weeks later Greenville officially ignited the rivlary.
With the Patroon Conference title on the line, the Spartans scored another 2-0 victory over Hill with Logan O’Connor and David Johnson providing the goals, and Statham and David Herbstritt providing the assists.
The win gave Greenville its first Patroon Conference title in boys soccer.
“Beating Maple Hill in 2012 was definitely a huge thing for Greenville,” Dennis Statham said. “Honestly, I was unaware at the time that Hill was such a force, I distinctly remember every Maple Hill game, mostly because my boys were playing in them.
“The two wins in 2012 were special because no one expected it. We had no business in everyone’s eyes beating them.”
Since 2012 the Patroon crown has resided with either the Spartans or Wildcats four out of the last five seasons, with the anomaly coming in 2013 when Coxsackie-Athens stole the title.
“2012 and 2013 the Greenville versus Maple Hill matchups were special, for sure, as always. I can remember going over and over everything on paper and in my head,” Statham recalled. “They are the games you lay awake at night thinking about. Finding Hill’s weaknesses isn’t easy and exploiting them is harder because Gillespie is such a good coach.”
A new face took over the Spartan soccer program and the rivlary with Maple Hill continued to take a turn in favor of Greenville.
Lewis stepped down after two seasons at the helm and current coach Nathan Forrest inherited a talented team with their eyes set on titles.
“I have only been in the Capital Region the last five years; in my first year teaching I attended a few games and heard students discussing their toughest opponents,” Forrest said. “It wasn’t until I became head coach in 2014 that I really became aware of the meaning of the rivalry.”
Greenville picked up two wins that season and Hill and Greenville locked horns a third time, this one for a spot in the Section II, Class C championship game. Statham buried the Wildcats.
The reigning Patroon MVP buried a penalty kick in the first half to lift Greenville to a hard-fought 1-0 victory.
Greenville went on to lose in the final to Lake George and Maple Hill sought revenge once 2015 rolled around.
“The pressure to win was in 2015 for me,” Dennis Statham said. “By then Sam and my main core of travel boys that I had from age eight were seniors. We had established Greenville as a winner and started a winning tradition of our own.”
The expectations were quickly destroyed by a hungry Maple Hill team, which shutout Greenville in the regular season.
In the trilogy, Maple Hill entered the game 18-0 as the No. 1 ranked team in New York State in Class C, while Greenville was 15-3 and the 16th ranked team.
“It was the biggest crowd I’d seen packing Burnt Hills High School. For the second year in a row it was ’Ville versus Hill for the right to play in the finals,” Statham said.
After falling behind 1-0, Statham scored two goals and assisted on a third in Greenville’s 3-1 victory to defeat Maple Hill in the sectional semifinals for the second consecutive year.
“All sectional games carry the weight of the season with them. Against Maple Hill, sectional games take on an additional meaning. At that point in the season it’s our third time playing one another so we know each other’s players and playing style,” Forrest said. “These games always hinge on one big moment or mistake that can change the makeup of the game.”
For the Stathams, this was their final moment in this rivalry.
“It was nothing short of a movie script. Maple Hill was a powerhouse and ranked number one in New York State,” said Dennis Statham. “I get chills thinking about it. I can remember every second of that game and how it felt watching the boys make memories they would never forget.”
For Sam Statham, who now plays for the College of Saint Rose, however, the 2015 semifinal game will never be topped.
“The entire game there was an electric atmosphere from both sides and I don’t know if there has ever been a section that large for a Class C matchup,” he said. “From the announcers booth, to the school chants from the fans, I know I will never play in a soccer game quite like that one ever again.”
In 2016, Maple Hill owned the rivlary going 1-0-1 against Greenville. However, in 2017, Greenville was back on top.
The Spartans took the two regular season matchups.
Yet again, there was a trilogy, but this time Maple Hill got its revenge.
A Christian Beber corner kick with 18:53 remaining in the game pinballed off several players before landing in front of Alec Yager who took a shot on goal, giving Maple Hill a 1-0 victory and adding another chapter in the book of Maple Hill-Greenville soccer.
“It felt truly amazing,” said Bryan Kern, MH midfielder and two-time captain. “Having beat Greenville twice in a previous season and then getting beat in sectionals by them, we all knew how hard it was to beat a team three times in one year and everything just went our way it seemed.”
Despite the player turnover each year, what remains is the coaching staff, and Gillespie knows what it’s like to sweep the regular season series and fall short in the postseason.
“A couple of years ago, we beat Greenville during the regular season twice and then we met up in the semifinal at Burnt Hills and then they beat us that day and then the roles were opposite this year,” he said. “To be honest, this year, I think Greenville was the better team, we just happened to be a little luckier that last game to upset them.”
For Greenville and Forrest, it was a bitter pill to swallow.
With another year down another group of talented players depart the rivlary. Kern, Cole Ackerman, Paul Mitchell, Lucas Bourdeau and Alec Yager are some of the players that have dictated the rivalry that last two seasons. Now they’re gone and a new crop of talent look to take over the rivalry in 2018 and beyond.
The Wildcats lead the rivalry 28-9-1 overall, however, since 2012 Greenville leads the series with a 9-5-1 record.
Greenville will continue to have Nathan Forrest patroling the sidelines for years to come, however, there will be a time when Dan Gillespie steps down — the staple to the rivalry.
“You can’t say Maple Hill without thinking Dan Gillespie. He has the respect of every coach I know and has a commanding presence on the sideline, and the fact he has had success year-in and year-out speaks volumes about what he brings to the rivlary,” Statham said. “If he ever retires the rivalry will continue for sure. That being said, it will be lacking a bit of luster on their sideline. Hopefully he sticks around for awhile.”
For now, Gillespie is still at the helm and hungry to continue to have success on the pitch, but where will the rivalry go from here?
“It’s hard to say where it will go since it all comes down to which team wants it more and all I can do is hope the boys next year, and the years to come, will want it more than Greenville,” Kern said.