Nov 20, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Through all the adversity that popped up along in the way — especially injuries to key players — the Marcellus girls soccer team kept its dream of an undefeated run to its third state Class B championship in five years flickering to the very end.
And it took another undefeated team — from Briarcliff — to end that dream, as it beat the Mustangs 2-1 in a riveting state Class B final Saturday at Tompkins County Community College in Dryden.
Framed amid the heartbreak and tears associated with coming so far, only to fall just short, was a general amazement that Marcellus had gone this far.
“I couldn’t be any prouder of them,” said head coach Laurie Updike. “They played really hard and left it all on the field.”
Mustang fans knew this, too. As the players accepted the second-place medals and plaque, the cheers were just as loud as they would have been had Marcellus won, for they all knew that the entire season had been quite a struggle.
“It was the best season ever,” said goalkeeper Lauren Fletcher. “We didn’t think we would make it this far, but we wanted to stay as long as we could. Second place isn’t that bad.”
Just to reach the title game, the Mustangs had to fight through a long, cold battle with Bayport-Blue Point (Section XI) in Friday’s semifinal round at SUNY-Cortland, needing a shoot-out to prevail after playing the Phantoms to a 0-0 draw.
With temperatures in the 30s, snow flying through the air and the wind gusting past 20 miles per hour, both teams shivered, and the offenses struggled to establish anything.
Playing into the wind in the first half, Marcellus had only sporadic attacks. But its defense, led by Alicia Hunt, Marissa Bankey, Stephanie Raven and Emily Garrant, thwarted every Bayport thrust, keeping the game scoreless. it was the teams’ 12th consecutive shutout.
Through the second half, then four separate overtime periods (two played in full, plus two sudden-death sessions), Marcellus would have a fair amount of chances to score, but got nothing past Bayport goalkeeper Kerry Stoothoff, who made eight saves.
So the entire season for Marcellus rode on a penalty-kick shoot-out, each side getting five opportunities to get that far. And Fletcher got a chance to shine.
Bayport went first in each round, but C.J. Acker and Breanne Ingargiola both pulled their shots wide right in an attempt to avoid Fletcher’s long reach. On the third attempt, Abigal Gruppuso hit it to Fletcher, who deflected the ball off the right post.
By contrast, the Mustangs were perfect in its shots. First Garrant, then Rachel Farneti, and finally Sarah Holden polished off shots that eluded Stoothoff and found the net, placing the Mustangs one win away from a perfect ending.
Briarcliff, the Section I representative, stood in the way. The Bears were 21-0 and had fought past Livonia (Section V) 1-0 in the other semifinal.
Right away, Fletcher was tested by the Bears’ aggressive attack, but she handled the chances and would blank Briarcliff in the first half.
Meanwhile, the Mustangs suffered a severe blow early in the game when senior, Bridget Dooley, one of the team’s bedrock players at midfield, went out with a head injury. Dooley did not return, an absence that the entire team would feel.
Still, Holden would put the Mustangs in front in the 33rd minute. She had seen a great shot midway through the first half go off the crossbar, but in this case, she sprinted to the middle and took a perfect feed from Farneti and crushed it past Briarcliff goalie Chelsea Bodansky.
Up 1-0 going into halftime, Marcellus still didn’t possess the ball as much as it would like, with the Bears constantly probing and taking the ball into the Mustangs’ end.
That would pay off for the Bears when, less than six minutes into the second half, Danielle Christiano scored off a feed from fellow freshman Liana Cornacchio, tying the game 1-1 and ending the Mustangs’ long shutout streak.
For the rest of regulation, the two teams traded runs without getting serious shots at each other, forcing the game into overtime.
It was the third time Marcellus had gone to OT in the playoffs, having done so the day before, and also in the regional playoffs against Tamarac. All this work, especially the long battle with Bayport-Blue Point, may have led to some fatigue at the end.
With 3:42 left in the first OT period, the Bears drew a corner kick. From the right, Katie Underwood fed it to the middle, where Cornacchio poked a shot just past Fletcher into the net.
Marcellus still had a chance to prolong the game. With two minutes left in the second OT, Deana Melnyczuk charged to the Bears’ net and took a good shot, but Bodansky smothered the ball and kept her team in front.
“We needed to put the ball in the net, and it just didn’t happen,” said Updike.
So the Mustangs finished at 24-1, a remarkable feat given that it played more than half the season without two key contributors, Kellie Walter and Brittany Buza, both of whom suffered torn ACLs to take them off the field.
Now comes the difficult part — watching a remarkable senior class depart. Walter, Fletcher, Buza, Holden, Farneti, Garrant, Melnyczuk, Dooley, Hunt, Raven, Lindsey Forte, Kaelyn Madden and Brittany Fellows all contributed to one of the great eras in Marcellus soccer history, and replacing them might be next to impossible.