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When August rolls around at Arlington High School, the line between cross-country and boys soccer becomes a little blurry.
"In the beginning of the year, oh my gosh," senior captain Collin Illiano said. "Preseason it is just fitness."
Not surprisingly, preseason fitness has morphed into postseason glory.
Arlington's well-conditioned lungs were the difference in Saturday's NYS Class AA semifinal against Section 3's Utica Proctor. The Admirals (21-1) bagged a pair of second-half goals en route to a 2-0 win at Middletown's Faller Field.
"It's amazing," Illiano said. "I can't even explain it. I've always dreamed of this and hopefully it comes true tomorrow."
Only Long Island's Brentwood stands in Arlington's way of making it a reality. The two powerhouses will square off in Sunday's final at 1 p.m. at Middletown's grass field.
Against Proctor (16-4-1), the Admirals' overall fitness and cohesion was the difference.
"We spread the ball throughout the whole game and just tired them out," junior midfielder Christopher Shea said. "They had nothing left at the end. It shows by the second goal. They just gave up."
Shea broke through for the game's first goal in the 43rd minute, blasting a precise pass from Jeff Greblick into the roof of the net.
"It was great combination play between Jeff Greblick, me and David Verdis," Shea said. "Jeff took on two guys and brought in the second guy that was covering me and he played a perfect ball that I had to finish."
Junior midfielder Bryan Ashong capped the scoring in the 69th minute, hammering home a rebound off a close-range shot from Greblick.
Both goals were scored on the counterattack. The Admirals, who take great pride in their ability to defend with all 11 players, created turnovers and blitzed right past a shellshocked Proctor defense.
"We are one of the most deadly teams on counterattacks," Shea said. "The big key is Jeff Greblick. He has speed, dribbling skills and everything."
Illiano also pointed toward Greblick as the trigger man behind the blitzkrieg counters.
"Jeff was burning the kids up on the sides," Illiano said. "He was killing them."
Defensively, Arlington turned in another strong performance, recording its second straight shutout of the state tournament. Keeper Alex Fazio made seven saves to spearhead the effort. Sweeper Kevin Hoff was unflappable, refusing to let Proctor's speedy forwards slip in behind. Illiano and Pat Mogan rounded out the quality performance with smart and steady play.
"Defense first," Illiano said. "Defense with 11 behind the ball. Defense, defense, defense — that's what our whole team is about."
It will certainly take a herculean effort for the Admirals to post another shutout against Brentwood, which has outscored the opposition a combined 75-6 this season. The Indians, who enter with a perfect record of 22-0, were recently ranked No. 2 in the nation by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. Unlike in its previous 22 games, Arlington will be afforded the rare chance to play the role of underdog.
"I guess we we will see tomorrow," Illiano said with a smile. "It's going to be a great game."
The matchup also offers some recent history with a side of revenge. Arlington defeated Brentwood, 2-1, to capture its last state championship in 2006. Both programs have won three state titles. The Indians have been more dominant lately, winning it all in 2008 and 2010.
For Arlington, the present is the only thing that matters.
"This weekend is about making memories," Admirals coach Craig Sanborn said. "Boy, these guys added a couple more memories tonight. Tomorrow we are going to go out there and have fun, hopefully relax and make some more memories."
Email Isaac Cass at Icass@cablevision.com | Follow him on Twitter @MSGV_Icass