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Last updated
09-21-17 08:04 AM
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Elmira District Boys Soccer
Derek Hamilton
(607) 735-3100 x4128
933 Hoffman Street
Elmira, New York

Welcome to Elmira District Boys Varsity Soccer!! Home of the Express!!

This is a site dedicated to the Boys' Varsity Soccer team for the Elmira City School District in Elmira, New York. The team is a member of the Southern Tier Athletic Conference (STAC) and participates in the West Division.  Elmira is also a member of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA).

NYSSWA Final State Ranking - 2006 (#10), 2007 (#19), 2010 (#16) 

STAC West Division Champions - 2002 (Co-Champions), 2007 , 2008, 2012 (Co-Champions) 

STAC Finalists - 2008

STAC Champions - 2008

#1 Seed in Section IV Tournament - 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012 (shared) 

NYSPHSAA Section IV Finalist - 1988, 1989, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2010 , 2013 

NYSPHSAA Section IV Champions - 1989, 2006, 2010 

                                        Southern Tier Athletic Conference

STAC West                     STAC Metro               STAC Central               STAC East
Elmira District (AA)                Vestal (A)                       Johnson City (A)                Oneonta (B)      
Horseheads (AA)                     Binghamton (AA)              Susquehanna Valley (B)        Chennango Forks (B)
Corning District (AA)              Union-Endicott (A)        Owego (A)                          Chennango Valley (B)
Ithaca (AA)                      Maine-Endwell (A)        Seton Catholic (C)                     Windsor (B)
                                                                                                                                   Norwich (B)

Monday, September 18
Express Soccer Coaches Have a Lasting Bond

Photo by Star-Gazette

Andrew Legare - - @SGAndrewLegare - publisihed Sept. 15, 2017 


During their days as students at Elmira Free Academy, Derek Hamilton and Zach Sarno spent much of their time runnin accross Marty Harrigan Athletic Field playing for the Blue Devils boys soccer team.

Change has come with great frequency since those days, which saw the pair help EFA to three consecutive Section 4 finals appearances before graduating together in 1996.

Their alma mater is no more after EFA merged with Southside three years ago to form Elmira High School.  The grass field they played on has become an artificial surface.  Even the league in which they played - the Sullivan Trail Conference - is just a name most current athletes at the school wouldn't recognize.

Amid all the change, though, is a constant presence from  Hamilton and Sarno that connects past to present.  They are the only varsity soccer coaches the Elmira Express has had and have won a combined five Section IV titles ans coaches in the district.  Their teams have been exceptional this fall, with Hamilton's boys squad at 6-1 and Sarno's girls sporting a 5-1-1 record.

Of greater significance than championships, though, is the impact they have had on the lives of their students and players.  And each other.

They met in 7th grade after Sarno's family moved from Long Island to Elmira and have remained close friends.  They play golf and adult league soccer together, participated in each others weddings as groomsmen, were teammates at Corning Community College and maintain a bond that helps bridge together the boys and girls soccer teams at Elmira.

"Even though we're running two seperate programs, we really do run into each other every single day in the fall in one fashion or another," Sarno said.  "It's an honor to be able to say that one of your best friends is one of your coaching buddies and I wouldn't trade it for the world."

Sarno, 39, turned around a floundering Southside girls team after taking over as head coach in 2007 and has guided the Express girls to three Section 4 titles in the past four seasons and five straight Southern Tier Athletic Conference West championships.  He has taught in the Elmira School District since 2002, spending the last six years at Parley Coburn Elementary, where he teaches 4th grade.

Hamilton, 38, started as EFA's boys varsity coach in 2005 after four seasons directing the junior varsity team.  By he second season, Academy had won a Section IV title, which was followed by another in 2010.  He has taught in the district since 2004 and has been at Ernie Davis Academy the last four years, teaching English.

Together, they have coached in the Soaring Capital Soccer Club and run summer soccer camps.  They also shared Hamilton's first sectional title, with Sarno an assistant. 

"We both got into coaching together," Hamilton said.  "Zach kind of got me involved in Soaring Capital in 2001, 2002.  The first couple of years we were inseperable, doing teams together.  Eventually they said, 'You're two pretty good coaches, you've got to break up here.  You've got to take two different teams."

As break-ups go, this one never took.

Soccer Connection 

 Sarno came to Elmira at age 12 with his family after his dad took a job working at the print shop at the Elmira Correctional Facility.  He ended up playing with Hamilton in the Soaring Captial Soccer Club and for three seasons with the EFA varsity team, which Sarno joined for the post-season as a sophomore.

Hamilton played three full varsity seasons and, Sarno says, he was among the best center defenders in the league and was the backbone of the team.  Their coach at Academy was Sam Kutchukian, the man who started soccer at EFA and won 341 games over 34 seasons before retiring in 1999.

This summer, Hamilton and Sarno had the chance to play nine holes of golf with Kutchukian at Elmira Country Club.

"It might seem minuscule to some people, but it was really special," Sarno said.  "I think we both look up to Sam.  I think Derek and I just try to emulate some of the things we learned from him and some of the things we learned from other coaches growing up."

Among those other coaches was Henry Ferguson Sr., who coached the two at Corning Community College in 1996 and 1997.  Ferguson now coaches at least twice a year against Sarno as the girls varsitiy coach at Horseheads.  Another coaching influance was Gerry Holden in the Soaring Capital Soccer Club. 

Sarno and Hamilton both later played at SUNY Oswego, though not at the same time.  Hamilton ended up getting his four-year degree from Elmira College in 2001.

Academy Becomes a Power 

Fresh out of college and just 21 years old, Hamilton ended up being offered a job as JV boys soccer coach at EFA by athletic director John Lesky. He took over as the third boys varsity coach in Academy soccer history in 2005 and helped the Blue Devils bring home a Section 4 title in year two.

Sarno said the 2006 championship season was a special time.

"To be there and kind of help him along the way with that, and to know all the players myself, was really nice," Sarno said.

Hamilton's 2007 team was ranked in the top 10 in the state and tied a Vestal team that ended up winning the Class AA state championship. Academy lost to Owego in the sectional final that year, then came back to beat Johnson City for another Section 4 crown in 2010.

Hamilton grew up in West Elmira and went to kindergarten with his wife, Denise. They have a son, 9-year-old Brody, and twin 6-year-old daughters, Hailey and Reiley. The support of his family is a big reason Hamilton is able to juggle so many balls, including coaching two under-10 teams and an under-13 team in the Soaring Capital Club.

His connection to community, school and his players is a source of pride.

"Just seeing the community I grew up with and had so much fun competing in and the friends I’ve made I’m still friends with, bringing my kids up in that same atmosphere is really special to me and my wife," Hamilton said.

So, too, is the relationship he has forged with his players.

"I’ve been to a handful of weddings just of ex-players who have come through," Hamilton said. "Kids are still staying in touch with me, I’m still staying in touch with the kids, whether they live in San Francisco or locally. Just getting together and playing and keeping in contact or being involved in weddings, knowing that I made an impact on their life 10 years ago to the point where I’m still being involved in their social activities and fantasy baseball leagues and weddings and stuff like that is really special and prideful to me."

A Southside turnaround

Last year, Sarno reached the 100-victory milestone as a coach in the district. That's even more impressive when you consider where the Southside girls program was when he took over in 2007.

"I think they had won one game in three years," Sarno said. "Within two years, in 2008, we were in the sectional final against Maine-Endwell at Cortland State. We lost to a great Maine-Endwell team but literally that year had five freshmen and a sophomore starting."

As more girls began to play club soccer and put time into the sport, it became a bigger deal at Southside. Girls soccer has really taken off since all teams at EFA and Southside were combined in 2011, with the Express' initial sectional title in 2013 a standout moment for Sarno.

Sarno is also proud to have seen so many of his former players go on to play in college, including seven currently. He added he's excited to have Amanda Murphy, one of his former players, helping him as an assistant coach.

The Express' success wasn't a case of a coach being in the right place at the right time. Sarno's leadership has been imperative in turning Elmira into a force, with last year's group losing, 2-1, in the state tournament to an Arlington team that ended up winning the Class AA state championship. Alexus Boorse, a senior on this year's team, said Sarno's positive outlook and commitment are appreciated by the team.

"Zach is one of the most dedicated, knowledgeable and organized coaches I've come across during my time coaching at the high school level," Hamilton said. "His commitment to his girls and his program, both at the club and high school level, is unrivaled. Parents and players alike are lucky to have him and he's been a massive part of their success since the Elmira High School merger."

Lending a hand

While the sports merger of EFA and Southside was not welcomed by a lot of people initially, it helped reunite Hamilton and Sarno as coaches.

"That was probably one of the defining moments when we did become the Express," Sarno said. "We were running the two programs instead of me being at Southside and him at EFA with the boys. We were the face of the program and still are today."

Both coaches, and the players, support the other team when their schedules allow. Sarno and Hamilton often turn to each other for advice. This past week, for instance, Sarno asked Hamilton if he had any ideas for a practice session and Hamilton responded almost immediately with suggestions.

When Elmira's boys struggled to win games in recent years, Sarno was there to offer encouragement, reminding Hamilton that down years come with the territory in high school soccer.

"To have that relationship and to be able to rely on somebody and bounce ideas and things like that, that's great," Sarno said. "I watch the way the boys respect Derek. They look up to Derek as a role model as well, just like the girls do for me. ... It's not about the wins and losses. It's more about the message we can send to our kids and I think we both try to do the best we can with that."

Said Hamilton: "Zach and I share a lot of ideals in coaching. He'll go over some things that work with his squad and I'll share some things that work with my squad. We kind of push and pull from each other's strengths."

The coaches play golf twice a week together in the summer, with their handicaps within a stroke of each other. During those times on the course, the conversation may end up being about family life, whatever else each has going on or just reminiscing.

"We're not allowed to talk soccer," Hamilton said. "We just have to be friends and play golf for that time. I think that's neat that we can kind of separate that as well."

While Sarno and his wife, Jennifer, don't have children, Hamilton is hoping someday down the road his twin girls will get an opportunity to play for one of his best friends.

"I’m going to (coach) at least until 2025 when my son comes through here," Hamilton said. "Then my girls will end up coming and playing for Zach, so maybe I’ll go help him for a couple years and the coaching carousel will come full circle.

"We started out together, we’ll go out together and I think that would be a pretty neat story if that ended up happening, if he ended up coaching my daughters after my son’s done playing and I’m right there with him right along the way."

Follow @SGAndrewLegare on Twitter.

Photo by Star-Gazette

Thursday, August 31
Nine seniors lead Express boys soccer team

Photo by Star-Gazette
Andrew Legare,
Good new for Elmira High School soccer coach Derek Hamilton:  He finally has an experienced roster.
Elmira's team includes nine seniors who will try to help the Express make a bid for the Souther Tier Athletic Conference West Division crown.  Last season, the Express finished with a 3-8-3 record.
Here are some keys as Elmira gets its season going:
Back in the Fold
Among those returning is senior defender Nate Forrest, who last year earned STAC Metro/West all-conference honors.  Two STAC West all-division picks also return: senior midfielder Gavin Wise and junior GK/defender Luke Baldwin.
Others with varsity experience include sophomore forward Noah Sperduto, senior defender Alex Hill, senior forward Jan Ziembicki, junior midfielder Evan Moore, and senior midfielder Zane Benjamin-Herchanik.
Welcome Additions 
Elmira's newcomber are led by sophomore defender Jakub Ziembicki, senior goalkeeper Corey Templar and junior midfielder Landon Erickson.
Working Overtime
Over the last three seasons, Elmira has played in 18 overtime contests.  Hamilton is optimistic some tough losses form years past will turn into victories in 2017.  
"We've played in 18 overtime games over the past three years but just couldn't seem to get over the hump and win those one-goal matches," he said.  "With both quality and experience on this year's team, we are looking to turn those close matches into wins."
Despite some down years recently in terms of record, boys soccer has a strong tradition in the Elmira City School district.  Hamilton, a head varsity coach in the district since 2005, coached Elmira Free Academy to Section 4 Championships in 2006 and 2010.  The 2010 team was the last one at EFA, with the school merging with Southside in all sports starting in 2011-2012.
For Starters
Elmira's first regular-season game is scheduled for 6:30 pm.  August 28 at Owego Free Academy.  Following another road game August 30 at Corning, the Express' home opener is set for 5 pm Sept 1 against Chenango Valley on the turf field at Ernie Davis Academy. 

Monday, November 21

Below are some of the best moments in EFA/Elmira Soccer history to have been caught on film:

--> Nick Lian (as a junior) scores one the best goals of his career in a 6-1 victory over Elmira Southside.  This bicycle is amazing and you get two looks at it!!


--> Ross Holden bends a fantastic free kick around a Union-Endicott wall to lead Elmira Free Academy to a 1-0 victory.


-->Justin Munson and Alex Varkatzas set the pace in a 3-0 victory over Owego in a New York State, Section IV, Class "A" Semi-Final match sending EFA to their third section final in five years!!



Thursday, February 7
Elmira's Varkatzas to play men's soccer at Binghamton University

image_name2 - Joe Mink - 2/7/13

ELMIRA — Soccer has always been in Alex Varkatzas’ blood.

His dad, Kostas, played professionally in Greece. And now Alex will be competing at the Division I level after he signed a letter of intent Wednesday at Elmira Free Academy to play on the men’s soccer team at Binghamton University.

Alex Varkatzas said he received a partial scholarship that can increase as he progresses through the program. He plans on majoring in business administration.

“I’m excited to join a Division I program,” he said. “It’s nice to be playing close to home

A senior at EFA, Varkatzas scored a team-record 29 goals last season as a forward for the Elmira Express, which shared the Southern Tier Athletic Conference West Division title with Corning. He finished his career with 64 goals, also a record for EFA/Elmira.

Varkatzas was named to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America boys all-state third team for large schools, which includes players from classes AA and A.

The NSCAA also picked Varkatzas as a Region II all-star. That team included top players from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

The common theme from Alex Varkatzas, Kostas Varkatzas and Elmira coach Derek Hamilton is Alex’s love of the game.

“He’s willing to be committed to improving,” said Elmira coach Derek Hamilton.

Kostas Varkatzas, a defender during his playing days, said he started his son out at age 4.

“He started kicking the ball around. As a 6-year-old you could tell he loved the game. He did footwork from 6 to 10 and then joined a travel league,” he explained.

Hamilton recalled bringing Alex Varkatzas up to varsity as an eighth-grader for the Section 4 tournament. He ended up having so much faith in the youngster’s ability that he had him taking a penalty kick during the playoffs.

“He had a clean strike on the ball, and he was only 13. He knocked it home like he was 18,” Hamilton said.

Varkatzas is now competing on the Express boys basketball team. He said he’s played basketball since modified except for a season off as a junior because of concerns about possible injury. But he’s back on court, mostly for the conditioning.

Varkatzas said he drew interest from Syracuse, Bucknell and American University.

After college, Varkatzas said he’d like to go pro, perhaps even going to Greece.

His dad believes he can do it.

“Absolutely,” Kostas Varkatzas said. “But it will take lots of work.”


By Shawn Vargo Corning Leader

Posted Feb 06, 2013 @ 10:17 PM
Varkatzas Signs With Binghamton

Elmira’s Alex Varkatzas signed a national letter of intent to play soccer at Binghamton University at a ceremony at Elmira Free Academy Wednesday.

Varkatzas, the All-Leader Player of the Year as a senior, led the Express with 29 goals and five assists in 2012.

“This is pretty special. It has always been a goal of mine to go on to a Division I program,” Varkatzas said. “Binghamton is very nice. It’s good academically and being a part of a D-I program so close to home is nice.”

Varkatzas, who began his varsity career as an eighth grader, was a part of the final EFA squad, as well as a key cog in the new Express program. Among the other schools he was looking at were Bucknell and Syracuse.

“I think it will be a very good fit,” Elmira head coach Derek Hamilton said. “Their program’s style of play is very similar to the one we use at Elmira.
“Plus, he’s going to get a top-notch education, as well.”

Varkatzas plans on studying Business Administration.

Upcoming Games
Date Event Time Location
Wed 9/27 Soccer Elmira @ Horseheads 4:30 PM Horseheads High School
Fri 9/29 Soccer Elmira @ Maine-Endwell 5:00 PM Maine-Endwell High School
Recent Games
Date Event Time Location
Wed 9/20 Soccer Elmira @ Union-Endicott 7:00 PM Ty Cobb Stadium
Fri 9/22 Soccer Elmira vs. Corning 5:00 PM Ernie Davis Academy Turf
Elmira District Boys Soccer
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