CORTLAND — The scariest aspect of the state semifinalist Allegany-Limestone girls soccer team might be its pregame introduction.
Nine times the public address announcer will say “junior” while reading the Gators’ starting lineup. Their 24-player roster includes 18 members of the Class of 2020.
It’s unknown whether A-L has already begun preparing next fall’s Senior Night ceremony.
“We’re going to have to start about noon,” coach Dale MacArthur said with a chuckle.
There will be plenty of good things to say about a group largely responsible for last fall’s Class C state title run and this year’s return trip to states.
“Most of us have been playing together since we were like 10,” junior captain Kait Higby said.
This A-L team, MacArthur said, “has the entire range … from some of the best players in Western New York to girls who just love to play.”
He added: “Everybody gets the same training. We don’t just train the ones that we think are going to play the most. We try to train everybody the same, and then what you do with that is up to you. If you can take it and really start improving … And I’m not giving them anything terribly new. They’ve been getting it since whenever they first started playing.”
This weekend marks the seventh time MacArthur will lead a team to the state final four in his 31 seasons. Next year’s squad will surely want to be there, too. And it’s scary to think how good that team could be if it keeps improving the way the 2018 Gators have.
There was no guarantee A-L would be back at states this year. Yeah, it returned the bulk of its offensive firepower, including school record-holders Alyssa Spring and Molly McClelland, speedster Grace DeCapua and Higby — all juniors. But in addition to being bumped up a class size, it had to find a way to replace its entire defense.
That took some time.
Now it’s fun for MacArthur to think back to the Gators’ first game — a 4-1 loss to Hamburg.
“We played them because we knew they were good, and they were,” he said. “So you’re looking at it and say, ‘Well, it was 4-1.’ We missed a penalty kick. Lionel Messi misses penalty kicks; no big deal. So we had a chance there to make it 4-2. And we had two or three other chances that just missed. So we were pretty close to tying or winning that game, and we weren’t playing like we’re playing now.
“I know there are people that looked at our defense after that game and said, ‘Oh my! What are we gonna do?’ Well, we had some people in spots that we changed them around, we developed. The growth in the back, I think, has been huge. And, two, the growth in the midfield and the forwards, I think, has been big. They were pretty dangerous to begin with; they’re understanding each other better, they’re doing more things. To me, that’s the reward I get, by seeing these guys grow together and enjoy what they’re doing.”
This weekend, they’re ready to take aim at a second straight state championship.
“We’re all really excited because of knowing how it was last year and how much fun we had,” Higby said. “We’re going to all enjoy it like we did last year.”
And maybe do so again next year.
(Shawn Campbell, a Times Herald sports writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)