For the third year in a row, Cazenovia's field hockey team earned the right to venture into the wild and uncharted ground that is the state playoffs.
To earn that right, the Lakers had to go to nearby Chittenango High School and, on a warm early Wednesday evening, clamp down on Little Falls in a 1-0 shutout to earn the combined Section III Class C/D title.
Four days earlier, the Lakers had prevailed 2-0 over Canastota in the Class C final, while the Mounties had beaten New York Mills 3-2 to snag the Class D title, the 10th in the school's history.
Perhaps sensing the urgency to produce something quickly, the Lakers went on the attack right after the opening face-off.
Just 36 seconds later, Cazenovia had a lead it would not relinquish. Lindsey Smith took a shot that Little Falls goalie Ashley Miller kicked away -- but it went right to Tori Widrick, and her rebound shot trickled into the net.
That was all the Lakers would get in this game. For the rest of the night, whenever the Lakers organized and whenever it earned penalty corners, the Mounties would turn it away, as Miller finished with eight save.
Meanwhile, the Cazenovia defense continued to dominate. A majority of the Lakers' experience is in the backfield, a key reason why the team could so smoothly replace its potent attack from the previous two years and still win big.
Alissa Easterly, Stacy Marris, Jenny Beachem and Eden Smith are all seniors on the back line that protect a senior, Jen Budnar, in goal. Together, they closed ranks every time Little Falls brought the ball into their end, then got their sticks on the turf and flicked the ball away. Budnar finished with six saves.
This kind of defensive effort would be needed Saturday, at Vestal High School near Binghamton, when the Lakers faced Section IV powerhouse Marathon in the Class C regional finals.