Nov 21, 2006 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
To be sure, Cicero-North Syracuse’s field hockey team had a sense of disappointment in the aftermath of its 3-0 defeat to Lakeland in last Saturday’s state Class A title game at Alliance Bank Stadium.
But that feeling did not linger.
For the most part, the Northstars — players, coaches and parents alike — were awash with pride over the most successful season in the program’s history, culminating in the team’s first-ever appearance in a state title game.
“It’s the best any of us could have asked for,” said senior midfielder Melissa Kane. “This team has worked so hard for this.”
As he held the silver-plated second-place plaque, head coach Pat Kennedy said he didn’t mind the ending, either.
“Second place is not bad,” he said. “I’m very proud of our girls. This (trophy) means a lot.”
In the end, it took an undefeated, high-level group from Lakeland (Section I) full of college-bound stars to keep the Northstars from the summit.
Reaching that point was stressful enough. Each of the three post-season games leading up to the championship contest saw CNS prevail by a single goal, the outcome in doubt all the way to the final whistle.
It started Nov. 1, with the tough 2-1 win over Rome Free Academy in the Section III Class A final. Ten days later at RFA Stadium, CNS needed two overtimes to survive Niskayuna in yet another 2-1 decision in the regional finals.
This brought the Northstars back to its neighborhood, to Alliance Bank Stadium, and a state semifinal showdown last Friday with Section V champion Penfield, survivor of the western regional.
Again, CNS would inch ahead in the first half — and again, the Northstars would need to hang on before claiming a 1-0 victory over the Patriots.
Both sides had their share of chances in the early going, working out the nerves of a big game before settling down.
Gradually, CNS began to increase the pressure, leading to a series of three straight penalty corners midway through the half. With 15:50 left, off that third PC, a net scramble led to Stephanie Mix poking the ball past Penfield goalie Phoebe Strosur.
From that point, and through much of the second half, the Northstars found itself in the back, defending a continual string of Penfield attacks.
Proving again that they were up to it, Allee Emmi, Lucia Meola, Katie Carrick and Amanda Obrist got in the way of all the chances, protecting goalie Nicole Gillette and preserving that slim lead.
“This wasn’t anything new,” said Kennedy. “We’ve been tested all year, and haven’t really blown anyone out.”
Despite playing close to home, and despite an 18-1 record, CNS was a decided underdog going into the final.
Lakeland arrived with a perfect 23-0 mark, having just destroyed Massapequa 7-1 in its semifinal game. In University of Connecticut-bound senior Melissa Gonzalez, the Hornets possessed a proven game-breaker that could exploit any opportunity.
It did not take long for Gonzalez to render some damage. Just 5:40 into the game, she picked off the ball at midfield and ran 50 yards down the left side, maneuvering the ball around two defenders. At just the right moment, Gonzalez ripped a ball to the middle, and Cassie O’Mara poked it past Gillette.
Possession-wise, the difference between the teams was minimal, as CNS had its share of runs and attacks, only to find it impossible to get around a Lakeland defense just as formidable as the girls on the front line.
Gonzalez made it 2-0 by scoring off a scramble with 4:33 left in the half, and despite solid defense from Lauren Spink, she assisted on Amy Voelkel’s goal midway through the second half to establish the final margin.
“She was the best player we have faced all year,” said Kane. “Even though we were in a tough game, we worked until the last minute.”
Indeed, the CNS effort never wavered, and that, combined with the high quality of the opposition, made the defeat a bit easier to accept. Both Meola and Maggie McDonald were named to the All-Tournament team.
It marked the end of a remarkable run for the five seniors — Kane, McDonald, Obrist, Stephanie Sylvia and Danielle Palucci — that had helped to bring the Northstars from the middle of the pack to back-to-back sectional titles.
As they depart, Meola, Gillette, Emmi, Spink, Mix and Katie Barbagallo form the core of a strong team that, if they all come back for 2007, could make another long and rewarding run.
“Now other teams (in the future) want to emulate this season and work a little harder to win it all,” said Kennedy.