Nov 20, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
One moment, the Cicero-North Syracuse girls soccer team was primed for a celebration of its first-ever state championship.
The next moment, cheers and smiles had turned into tears and shock, as the Northstars tried to comprehend where it all went wrong.
Blame Greece Arcadia for the sudden mood swing. The Section V champion Titans tied the Northstars in the waning moments of regulation in last Saturday’s state Class AA title game at SUNY-Cortland, then claimed a 2-1 victory in the last of four overtime periods.
For two days and 159 minutes of field time, all had gone right for CNS. It had blanked Sachem East 1-0 in Friday’s semifinal round, and was on the brink of doing the same to Greece Arcadia, despite a steady stream of Titan attacks throughout the contest.
But with 51 seconds left in the final, Greece Arcadia’s Erica Luedke tied it, and her teammate, Jessica Shufelt, put in the game-winner just 3:08 before the two sides would have been declared co-champions.
Just to reach this moment of extreme ecstasy that turned into extreme pain required a superlative effort by everyone on the CNS side.
Going into the state final four, the Northstars had every reason to feel like it could conquer the field. It had just rallied to beat state no. 1-ranked Shenendehowa 2-1 in a riveting regional final on Nov. 10 and would be playing on the same SUNY-Cortland turf where it had beaten Liverpool in the sectional finals earlier this month.
What’s more, said head coach Jeremy Lenchert, the veterans on his team remembered how it felt in 2005 when CNS reached the state final four, only to lose a tense semifinal to North Rockland, and did not want to go home early this time around.
So on a chilly, wind-swept Friday morning, the Northstars went into battle against Sachem East, the Section XI champions from Suffolk County, Long Island.
With the wind (which blew 20 miles per hour and higher) at its back throughout the first half, CNS took its time establishing the attack, then pushed hard in the latter stages as the Flaming Arrows wore out constantly working into that icy breeze.
In the 37th minute, that pressure led to the end of the 0-0 stalemate. A CNS free kick was deflected just wide of the net, but in the process, Sachem East committed a foul inside the 18-yard box.
This meant an automatic penalty kick, and McKaye Neumeister took it. The senior defender, also among the top students in her class, hit her shot to the left. Sachem East goalie Kristi-Lyn Wilken guessed right — but the ball sped past her into the net.
“When I hit it, I knew it was good,” said Neumeister.
Now with a one-goal edge, CNS turned with some trepidation to the second half, where it would play dead into that wind. Sure enough, the Flaming Arrows swarmed the Northstars’ net, forcing it into a constant defensive mode for much of the game’s late stages.
Here, Chelsea Dunay would prove to be superb. The sophomore goalkeeper officially had five saves, but many were of the close variety, including a diving stop with her fingertips of Laura Greene’s shot with nine minutes left.
“It was cold, and tough to catch the ball,” said Dunay. “But we would not let the weather affect our play.”
Warmed up after some rest, CNS now set its collective sights on Greece Arcadia, who ripped Horace Greeley (Section IX) 3-1 in the other semifinal game.
Calmer conditions prevailed, and both teams attacked with vigor in an exciting first half. Dealing with constant pressure, Dunay kept the Titans out, even making a save just inside her own net (the ball stayed out) in the 16th minute. Despite its share of runs, CNS could not convert, either, and they went to halftime 0-0.
Both sides continued their all-out push in the second half, waiting to see who would break through.
In the 57th minute, the Northstars did so. Nicole Close, who had found room to run and create opportunities throughout the game, tore down the right side, stayed onsides, and offered a perfect cross from the right to Coreena D’Alfonso, who headed it past Titan goalie Jessica Sexton.
All through the next 20 minutes of play, Greece Arcadia played up, 10 girls attacking, which gave the Northstars a fair share of chances to clinch the state title on counterattacks, though none of them worked.
Still, CNS stayed in front, and got to the last minute with that lead when an injury to a CNS player forced a time-out so that she could leave the field.
Knowing it had a free kick from 35 yards out and perhaps one more chance to tie it, the Titans brought everybody up, including Sexton, the rare sight of a goalie amidst the attack.
Luedke took the free kick and hit it near the net. With all the players scrambling for position, Dunay got lost in that shuffle and did not get a track on Luedke’s shot until it was rolling past her into the net.
Now tied, 1-1, they went to overtime. Throughout the two mandatory 10-minute periods, the Titans waged an all-out attack, trying to wear out Dunay and defenders like Neumeister, Lis Zuern and Brittany Mylee.
Somehow, Dunay kept it all out, building her save total to 11. Sexton also got tested, as the Greece Arcadia goalie’s used a kick save on Brittney Fedele to keep the game alive.
They went through a five-minute sudden-death period still 1-1. In the last OT period, CNS attacked hard, going for the win, and nearly converted.
But on the counter, Shufelt, going to the University of Connecticut next fall, went down the left side, virtually alone. She then took a lofted shot that proved too high for Dunay as she watched it go inside the post and to the right side of the net.
In that instant, and for several minutes afterward, the CNS players just stood near the net in total disbelief as the Titan players celebrated. What had looked to be ultimate triumph had turned into something a bit less.
Still, CNS could look back on the most successful campaign yet, where it went 18-2-2, controlled Section III play and came as close as one could get to reaching a state title without actually claiming it.
Yet it could happen in 2008. Aside from Neumeister, Zuern, Missy Butz and Morgan Osborne, every other player could be back. The presence of Dunay, Close, both D’Alfonso sisters (Coreena and Taylor), Myles, Fedele, Kayla Pickard, Linde Zajac and Rachel Geruso should give Northstar fans a reason to think that, 12 months from now, the ending might be a bit happier.