Weekly Feature

2018-11-07 / Sports

Soccer teams heading to state semis

Girls to make fifth straight appearance; boys top Hilton to end seven-year absence
Sports Reporter

Clarence’s Olivia Argentieri, middle, works to beat Williamsville North’s Lauren O’Connell, left, to the ball before O’Connell can boot it away during the Lady Red Devils’ 2-0 victory in the Section VI Class AA final that was held Oct. 29 at Williamsville East. Clarence’s Olivia Argentieri, middle, works to beat Williamsville North’s Lauren O’Connell, left, to the ball before O’Connell can boot it away during the Lady Red Devils’ 2-0 victory in the Section VI Class AA final that was held Oct. 29 at Williamsville East. For the first time in their storied histories, both Clarence’s girls and boys soccer teams will be playing in the state semifinals in the same season following their respective Class AA Far West Regional victories Saturday over Section V’s Webster Schroeder and Hilton.

The support and camaraderie between the two squads was never more apparent than when the Lady Red Devils – who had to win their game, in a scheduling quirk, on their opponent’s home field in suburban Rochester – made their way to Sweet Home before the end of the boys’ game and then rushed the field once the Red Devils clinched their 1-0 triumph. The win secured the boys’ first trip to the state semifinals since a three-year run of appearances ended in 2010, while the girls’ 3-2 overtime triumph punched their ticket to a fifth straight state semifinal.

Photo by Kathleen Kramer Purchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Photo by Kathleen Kramer Purchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com “There’s just something really neat about our programs this year, seeing that we’ve never had both our teams go to states in the same year,” girls coach Dave Stephan said. “So, we’re hoping with that being the case that maybe there’s something special about this year. Anyone from the other side of the state is really tough to get through, but I know we’re excited about the opportunity to play in the state tournament, and I’m sure the boys are too.”

“It’s definitely exciting that we’re both going to states this year,” boys coach Mike Silverstein said. “The boys were just so excited to celebrate their sectional win with them last Monday, so it was so great that they returned to favor on Saturday, even if they got yelled at by some of the people from Sweet Home for running on the field. We practice next to each other every day, so the camaraderie between both teams is just so great. I’m sure we’re all going to be checking our texts and our tweets to see how the other ones are doing.”

Webster Schroeder certainly made the Lady Red Devils earn their fifth consecutive trip to the state semifinals on the site of their first Far West Regional win in 2014. The game was scoreless until about the midpoint of the first half, when Olivia Argentieri found herself in perfect position to gather the rebound of Emma Faso’s initial shot and buried her chance. Schroeder’s goalie got a slight piece of Faso’s initial shot, which is what sent the ball Argentieri’s way.

That’s where the score would stay until there was around 10 minutes to play in regulation, which is when Schroeder capitalized on a foul in the box and converted on the ensuing penalty kick to knot the score at 1-1.

“They’re a quality team with a quality coaching staff, and they’re young with a lot of sophomores, so we thought we’d use their youthfulness to our advantage – and in the process we let them back into the game a couple of times when we shouldn’t have,” Stephan said. “It was a cold and windy game, and our girls really rose to the occasion to take the win away from them on their home field.”

Clarence scored first in the extra session – which is not sudden death to start – when Emma Jebens one-timed the ball into the net off a scrum in the box that was initiated by Argentieri. Faso tacked on the insurance goal late in overtime off a breakaway to give Clarence a 3-1 lead, which was fortunate since Schroeder scored again late in overtime off a set piece following another foul right outside the box.

Lauren Staley finished the contest with six saves in net for Clarence.

“It really was a great game with extremely solid defensive play,” Stephan said. “Their goalie was probably the best goalie that we’ve faced all year, but I still felt like we had a strong advantage coming into the game. I knew it would be difficult to beat her, but we kept a ton of pressure on them and kept moving the ball forward as often as we could.

“There’s just so much love of the game with this group, who gets the foundation of their success – like previous teams before them – from the town program,” Stephan continued. “The key to creating quality teams every year is finding the exact right puzzle piece to get the most out of the team. You have to figure out who can play where to best benefit the team. It took almost the entire season this year to put everyone in the right spot and play the right formation; we changed things two or three weeks ago and it’s working much better for us than the other three or four times we changed our formations earlier in the season.”

The Lady Red Devils earned their spot in this year’s Far West Regional by shutting out Williamsville North, 2-0, in this year’s Class AA final that was held Oct. 29 at Williamsville East. Faso scored what would be the only goal Clarence would need just nine minutes into the second half off a pass from Argentieri. Argentieri was then taken down in the box with about five minutes to play in regulation, which gave Madi West the opportunity to score the insurance tally off a penalty kick.

“Right from the first whistle the girls went out and worked their butts off, which they knew they would have to because North always plays us extremely tough,” Stephan said. “It was a really tough but great game, and it was just terrific to win the sectional title again. Anything we get to do after that is gravy.”

The Lady Red Devils (16-3-2 overall) will now face Bethlehem Central (17-1-1 overall) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Tompkins Cortland Community College for the right to advance to the state finals at 1:15 p.m. on Sunday. Clarence is the lone returning squad to the final four, which Stephan hopes might give his players a mental edge for the semifinals. Not having to face perennial foe Massapequa – the squad that has ended Clarence’s run in three of the previous four trips to the state semis – should only help bolster that confidence.

“With half of this year’s team having been to the semifinals before, hopefully that experience will allow us to play without nerves,” Stephan said. “Either way, we’ll need good luck and have to work our butts off to get through to the finals. But these girls have earned everything they’ve already got. From what I can see, Bethlehem is scoring like crazy.”

Clarence’s boys’ team, meanwhile, had even more of a nailbiter in pulling off its one-goal win over Hilton, a team Silverstein can’t recall Clarence ever facing in his time with the program. Fortunately for the Red Devils, they played what Silverstein called “the best 40 minutes of soccer that we’ve played all year” in the second half of Saturday’s clash, leading to Taha Ahmed scoring the game’s only goal in atypical fashion for him with about 14 minutes to play. Ahmed, who is not known for heading in goals, did just that off a volley from Kenny Suen.

“Taha’s not one for using his head – that’s the first one I can remember him getting that way this year – but he made an excellent run and eventually knocked the ball down through the goalie’s legs,” Silverstein said. “But, that chance might not have been possible were it not for the defensive play we received from our back line. The pressure we created on them – which was our plan, since they’re a skillful team when they have time on the ball to create – helped us keep the ball in their half of the field pretty much the entire second half. Everyone worked their tail off all game, and it was awesome. We couldn’t have played any better than we did.”

Quinn Neelon actually had a chance to give Clarence an insurance goal after Ahmed’s tally, but the ball slid just outside the post. Gehrig Lahti, meanwhile, “made it his personal mission to keep their top player, who was Rochester’s Player of the Year, in check, and he did a great job,” Silverstein noted.

“They never really got a sniff of the goal and that was because of how everyone was buying into the thought of pressuring,” Silverstein said. “The mindset and leadership that we had from our four guys who’ve been to regionals twice and not won – Kenny, Quinn, Gehrig and Ross Showalter – was huge. Their leadership was absolutely critical starting August 14 all the way through the final whistle Saturday.”

The Red Devils (18-2 overall) will once again look to become Section VI’s first state champion at Class AA when it faces Long Island’s Port Washington (12-6 overall) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Middletown High School, which is south of Albany. The winner of that game advances to Sunday’s championship game at 1 p.m.

Silverstein was just diving into his research on Port Jefferson as The Bee went to press – Port Washington played its regional contest Sunday afternoon – but was honestly more focused on having his squad play its game rather than the ins and outs of an unfamiliar foe.

“It felt really good to play how we did on Saturday, so the hope is we can keep that consistency going,” Silverstein said. “If we can play like we played on Saturday, particularly in the second half of Saturday’s game, I like our chances for moving on.”

email: jnadolinski@beenews.com

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