CORTLAND — The significance of an Allegany-Limestone state championship victory this weekend sounds like the opening line of an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary.
What if I told you a girls soccer team from Section 6 had never won a state title in Class B?
“It doesn’t surprise me,” A-L coach Dale MacArthur said. “What does it mean to us personally? It’s just one more challenge. It makes absolutely no difference to us that it’s never happened. We couldn’t care less because they’re independent events. If it happened every year up till now, it doesn’t matter. If it’s never happened, it doesn’t matter. We’re going. That’s all we know.”
And if there were ever a team destined to defy odds and make history, the Gators would be a logical choice. Their season has been defined by the challenges they’ve conquered.
The state’s third-smallest Class B school is one of the last four standing. In addition, A-L is back where it won it all last year in Class C despite breaking in an entirely new defensive lineup.
“I think you’re always nervous going into a tournament like this,” said senior captain Cameron Spring, “but I think we’re all pretty confident because we won last year and we’ve overcome a lot of things this year to get here.”
In Saturday’s New York State Public High School Athletic Association semifinals, the Gators (18-2) play Section 3’s Holland Patent (20-1-1) at 12:30 p.m. at Cortland High School. Section 4’s Chenango Forks and Section 8’s Wheatley meet in the prior semifinal at 10 a.m. The winners play for the state championship at 10 a.m. Sunday. The finals will be streamed live at www.nfhsnetwork.com.
Although it is playing in a different class, A-L is trying to use last year’s state experience to its advantage.
“Everyone needs to be encouraging to each other and keep everyone up because just like last year, when we had an own goal, we just kept going and we ended up winning, so it was all good,” junior captain Kait Higby said.
Said MacArthur: “They’re comfortable in that environment. They had no moments last year where it was overwhelming, and I don’t look for them to have any this year. Yes, it’s a bigger school. It’s still the game of soccer, it’s still played 11-on-11, and we have some players who can play with anybody. And now it’s a question of who has the most players that can play with anybody and how badly do you want to do this and who gets a break here and there.”
Chenango Forks, the Class B state champion in 2016, enters as the favorite, ranked No. 1 in this week’s state poll. Holland Patent is second, A-L third and Wheatley fourth.
Holland Patent, located 10 miles north of Utica, is weeks removed from winning its first sectional championship. The Golden Knights won on penalty kicks over Clinton, which had handed them their only loss. They’re coming off a 3-2 overtime win in regionals against Academy of the Holy Names.
MacArthur has a basic scouting report on Holland Patent, which has three players with 10 or more goals (Hannah Bochniak 17, Mayle Lupia-Eannace 14, Annastasha Dornburgh 13) and has held opponents to nine goals total this season (16 shutouts).
A-L has four double-digit scorers (Alyssa Spring 33, Sofia Fortuna 16, Abbey Gardiner 12, Higby 11) and has allowed 19 goals (10 shutouts). The Gators’ defense has come on strong in the postseason, yielding only one goal in five games.
“I’ve talked to the coach from Poland, who we played last year, the D school. They just got knocked out on penalty kicks for the state tournament,” MacArthur said. “He told me that (Holland Patent is) well-balanced, they’re athletic and they like to play control, which I’d like to think is a little bit like us. So I think what we’ll see is two teams of very similar style, and we’ll see where it takes us.”
MacArthur said his message to his players is the same as it was last year at the state final four.
“It’s really no different than any game,” he said. “It’s here’s what we do, let’s do it and go hard to the ball and have fun, enjoy the moment and do your best. If we can do that, the rest of it kind of doesn’t matter. If we’ve done those things, we’ve done what we can do.”