Nov 06, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
There stood the Cicero-North Syracuse girls soccer team, a win away from earning the Section III Class AA championship for the second time in three years.
And just like in 2005, Liverpool was blocking that title path — not as a long-established favorite, but as a reprogrammed upstart shaking off a mid-season crisis to become a force again.
They went at it Saturday night, on the turf at SUNY-Cortland — and while most of the senior experience and recent momentum was on the Warriors’ side, the better team on this night wore blue and white.
CNS is on top again, utilizing all of its talented parts to form a well-honed unit that systematically took out Liverpool in a 1-0 decision.
This marked the third time the Northstars had beaten the Warriors in 2007. Their first meeting on Sept. 8 began Liverpool’s slide, while the Oct. 2 rematch, won by CNS in overtime, served as the catalyst for the Warriors’ revival, as it would not lose again until this title game.
In sharp contrast to the opposition’s roller-coaster behavior, CNS had remained a steady, relentless unit all year, and had particularly stepped up its defense in the playoffs, having not surrendered a goal in earlier rounds against Oswego and Auburn.
It also helped to stay at full strength and avoid injuries. While the Northstars entered the final at close to full strength, the Warriors were without star sophomore Gabby Racines, who tore her ACL in Liverpool’s semifinal win over Baldwinsville.
So while the Warriors would put 10 senior starters in front of goalkeeper Noel Peck, it would not have Racines making frequent attacks on the CNS net.
Throughout the early stages, the Northstars probed and sent its forwards right into the heart of Liverpool’s stout defense, seeing where it could make an impact.
As it turned out, all it needed was a little space — which junior Nicole Close got in the 19th minute. Open in the middle from 20 yards out, Close (who had the winning goal in OT against Liverpool a month earlier) took full advantage, blasting a low shot that Peck had no chance of stopping as it crashed into the net.
Though CNS could not add to that one-goal margin the rest of the way, its defense made absolutely sure that Liverpool would not answer, either.
Experienced back-line players like Lis Zuern, McKaye Neumeister and Brittany Myles shut down whatever Liverpool tried to establish, while midfielders Linde Zajac, Julianne Viviano, Kayla Pickard and Rachel Geruso stood right up to their older counterparts and possessed the ball well.
This all helped make it easier for sophomore goalie Chelsea Dunay, who didn’t have to make many difficult saves on the night.
To gain the meeting with Liverpool, the Northstars first had to negotiate last Wednesday’s Class AA semifinal against no. 3 seed Auburn.
In turn, CNS gained revenge for its only regular-season defeat, relying on tough defense to fight past the Maroons 1-0.
Blessed with a 20 mile-per-hour tailwind in the first half, CNS went right after the Auburn defense, clearly remembering the pain of its 3-1 home defeat to the Maroons on Oct. 18 that, in all likelihood, cost the Northstars the top seed in the sectional tournament.
Just 7:42 into the game, Taylor D’Alfonso, running down the left side, poked a shot that made it past Auburn goalkeeper Virginia Porten and finished just inside the right post.
Porten would shut the door from there, keeping CNS frustrated as she finished with 11 saves, giving the Maroons all kinds of time to try and get back even.
Toward the end of the first half, Auburn started to do so, and increased its pressure once it gained the wind advantage in the second half.
However, the Northstars held firm, as Zuern, Neumeister, Linde Zajac and the rest of the CNS back line kept their poise, offering a lot of protection to Dunay, who finished with four saves.
As the newly-minted AA champions, CNS will go to Broadalbin-Perth High School Saturday for the regional finals against the Section II champions. The winner of the game advances to next weekend’s state final four back in the Cortland area.