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2002 TimesLedger PSAL Soccer Player of the Year: Richie Lesmes/Newtown

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Richie Lesmes played just one year of PSAL soccer. But what a year it was.

The talented center midfielder led Newtown to an undefeated regular season and its first city championship berth since 1999, earning TimesLedger PSAL Player of the Year honors.

What may be even more amazing is that Lesmes, who is being recruited by Division I programs Boston College, St. Francis College, St. John’s, Virginia Commonwealth and Holy Cross, was one of the top PSAL players despite not playing his best soccer for much of the season.

“At times I felt out of shape, not at my highest level,” Lesmes said. “But every game I tried to do whatever I could to help my team win.”

Lesmes played with his brother David Lesmes, a freshman midfielder at St. Francis College, at national powerhouse St. Benedict’s in Newark, N.J. but transferred back to Monsignor McClancy to be closer to home last spring.

Because of financial constraints, Lesmes left McClancy in search of a new school for his senior year. Lesmes thought about attending Holy Cross and playing along side TimesLedger CHSAA Player of the Year Tamer Mohamed in the midfield, but when those plans fell through, the Jackson Heights resident was ready to attend Bryant, which he thought was his zoned school.

But he reached a dead end there as well, when a guidance counselor at the school informed him he was actually zoned for Newtown. Not knowing anything about the rich soccer tradition at the school, Lesmes simply walked in the door and onto a team already considered a contender for the PSAL title.

“I believe in fate and I think I was destined to end up at Newtown, and I’m happy with the result,” Lesmes said. “To play for them was great.”

Despite his impressive soccer credentials, which included playing for the Brooklyn Knights Premier Development League team comprised almost exclusively of Division I players, Lesmes was the epitome of a team player on a very talented Newtown team.

“I didn’t try to come in and be the team,” Lesmes said. “I respect the guys on the team and I worked for them.”

After playing below his standards during the regular season, Lesmes stepped up his game in the playoffs. He scored the game-winner against league rival Grover Cleveland and the overtime winner against Tottenville in the semifinals.

But his best performance came in the quarterfinals against Julia Richman. With his team trailing 1-0, Lesmes led the charge, scoring two first-half goals — including the game-winner on a penalty shot — and added an assist on the Pioneers’ third goal in what turned out to be a 6-1 rout.

“The playoffs are the place where I could stand out more,” Lesmes said. “It was my way of showing people what I’m about and what our team was about.”

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