By Will LeBlond
Some athletes stick with one sport their entire lives to get to an elite level, but Lansing’s Devin McCartney is proof that there are other routes to the top.
The recently graduated McCartney reached one of the highest levels of soccer in the area when he was chosen as a third team All-State player by the New York State Sportswriters Association. The defender’s ability to shut down opposing offenses shone on the field all year long, but the work he put in behind the scenes went above and beyond.
McCartney had a few years of soccer experience when he began playing at the modified level during his eighth-grade year, but he stopped playing during his freshman year. After a year off, he found it to be a challenge when he took the the pitch again as a sophomore.
“Coming in as a sophomore was trial by fire,” said McCartney. “It was the physical aspect that I had to catch up with. I couldn’t really compete with the skill level they were at, so I had to be able to run them down and bug them to get the ball.”
In the following years, he ran outdoor track and field, played summer league soccer and club soccer during the winter and spring to get his legs to full strength. The culmination of the hours put in came during the 2016 campaign when he was a part of a senior class that had high expectations for how they would finish their high school careers.
“A few of us had been around when we went to the Final Four,” said McCartney on the 2014 team that reached the Class C State Semifinals. “Without trying to sound too cocky, it’s something that we expected and it’s a goal that we had. It’s that kind of drive that we all had to get to that spot.”
The season got off to a heartbreaking start for the Bobcats when their longtime coach Adam Heck passed away suddenly at the beginning of the year. While playing with heavy hearts, frustration mounted in the early going.
“It struck right in the beginning when we suffered two losses,” said McCartney on the team’s struggles. “We lost to Trumansburg and Marathon and those are pretty much our two biggest rivals. It was one of the biggest frustrations that we had for the entire season.”
From there, the team hit full stride and went about a month without losing a game until reigning New York State Champion Elmira Notre Dame knocked them off 1-0 in the IAC Championship Game. After that, the Bobcats ran through the Section IV Tournament bracket with a pair of wins by a combined score of 13-1 to force a rematch with Trumansburg in the title game.
“It was a thought that we had to get through this game,” said McCartney on the sectional title match with the Blue Raiders. “We had to push on if we wanted to accomplish what we really wanted. When we were playing for two overtimes, we knew sometime we had to break or else we were going to PKs. It helped push us through.”
They were able to find the back of the net in extra time and punched a ticket into the New York state tournament. From there, they defeated Bishop Ludden, 1-0, to claim a regional title, but their run ended in shocking fashion against World of Inquiry. In the semifinal game against the Griffins, they gave up two second half goals, including one with less than a minute to play to fall 2-1.
The sting of the loss reverberated through the whole team, but with the dust settled now, McCartney and his teammates look back at the journey with a positive lens.
“It’s really just the legacy of what we did this season,” said McCartney. “The fact that we made it as far as we did given the situation, I think people take the season as a success.”
The All-State distinction for McCartney, and also Nick Parkes, who was a fifth team pick, was also a culmination of all that the team had done during the season. Both McCartney and coach Benji Parkes were honored at ESPN Ithaca’s Night of Champions banquet with boys soccer athlete and coach of the year honors. With Nick also at their table due to his honor as the boys tennis athlete of the year, the evening doubled as one final storytelling of the Final Four run.
“It was really an awesome honor,” said McCartney. “We were all just sitting at the same table and it was just nice reminiscing about the season and being able to be together one last time and being honored for something that really means a lot.”
McCartney will spend the summer in Lansing before heading to Pennsylvania where he will study civil engineering at Villanova.