Four Interscholastic Athletic Conference soccer championships will be on the line on Saturday at Tompkins Cortland Community College, with teams from Lansing, Dryden, Elmira Notre Dame, Marathon and Spencer-Van Etten battling it out for postseason glory.
On the girls’ side, a new IAC Large School champion will be crowned, as North Division champion Dryden (13-1) faces South champ Notre Dame (13-1-1) at 1 p.m. That will be followed at 3 by a rematch of last year’s Large School boys’ final between defending champion Lansing (15-0) and Notre Dame (13-2).
Following those two games, the girls’ and boys’ teams from S-VE and Marathon will play for their respective IAC Small School titles, at 5 p.m. and 7, respectively.
Back in familiar territory
A year ago, Lansing marched into the Large School final with an undefeated record, a No. 1 state ranking in Class C and outscoring opponents a mind-blowing 117-4.
Twelve months later, not a lot has changed.
The undefeated Bobcats head into Saturday’s rematch against Notre Dame ranked No. 2 in the state, having outscored opponents 63-1 this season.
The only team ahead of Lansing in the state rankings is Port Jefferson of Section 11. The Royals are the only team to have beaten the Bobcats the past two seasons, having ended the Bobcats’ 2011 campaign with a 1-0 victory in the state Class C semifinals.
The goals may be down for coach Adam Heck’s squad — a somewhat expected consequence of senior all-state strike Ethan Kutler and junior midfielder Benji Geisler both foregoing high school soccer to take part in an academy program this season — but defensively Lansing has been even more impregnable.
Trumansburg is the only team to have scored against coach Adam Heck’s squad in 2012, a 2-1 overtime victory on Oct. 5. Notre Dame, ranked 14th in Class D, will know all about the Bobcats’ defensive prowess, having managed only one shot in last year’s Large School final, won by Lansing, 1-0.
“That’s just due to our philosophy in our program,” Heck said. “We take a lot of pride in our defense. We just have some tough kids back there, and they play with a little chip on their shoulder to keep teams out. It’s also motivation for other teams to try and score on us, so we’re always seeing other teams’ best, which we understand.”
Heck credits seniors Spencer Warkentin, Ellington Hopkins and Cobi Byrne and junior Jake Palladino for being “the glue” to the 2012 edition of the Bobcats. First-year starters Jason Yahn and Clinton Herzog, both juniors, and senior goalie Sam Currie have been major factors.
“That was somewhat of a question over the summer, the role players assuming a bigger role,” said Heck. “Did I expect it? Yes. Did I expect it to be this smooth? Probably not — you never do. But I have a lot of trust in this team.”
The Crusaders have also done well in integrating new pieces, as coach Brian Adams starts six sophomores after losing nine seniors from last year’s team. Heck anticipates a tough test from a Notre Dame squad that has nine shutouts this season while outscoring opponents, 68-12.
“Notre Dame likes to play on the ground, so I think the turf will be good for both teams,” said Heck. “They have a very talented team. That’s going to be our puzzle, going through their back line.”
A rivalry renewed
When the Dryden and Notre Dame girls teams take the field for Saturday’s Large School championship game, a rivalry will be renewed.
Before the conference switched to a four-division format, the two squads had some memorable meetings, says Lions coach Janine Bennett, and Saturday figures to be no different.
“We had some very competitive games against them,” said Bennett. “I always enjoyed our games. They are well-coached and always have very strong players. I don’t like that we don’t get to play them anymore.”
Dryden’s last overall IAC title came in 2005, three years before the conference switched to Large School and Small School finals and a year after the Crusaders’ last championship in 2004.
The reshuffling of the divisions has not been the only roadblock between the Lions and a return to the final, however. Lansing, Dryden’s biggest rival, had claimed six consecutive IAC championships before this season.
That was before the Lions got the best of their nemesis twice this year, a 1-0 overtime victory at Lansing on Sept. 12 followed by a 4-1 home victory on Oct. 2. Dryden’s only loss of the season came just two days after that first defeat of Lansing, as the Lions suffered a 1-0 home loss to Whitney Point.
“We’ve been trying to get to the IAC championship game, but with Lansing being so strong we’re really had to battle tooth and nail,” said Bennett, whose teams has outscored its opponents 44-6 since its only loss of the season. “It was really pretty exciting to do it this year. We knew what they had lost and we knew what we were, and we made it one of our preseason goals.”
Dryden’s current goal is to break down a Notre Dame squad which is ranked 16th in Class C and has surrendered seven goals in 15 games. Crusaders senior Hannah Haskell leads her team in goals with 23.
Bennett admits she knows “very little” about today’s opponent, although what she does know a lot about is her own team’s strengths. Daughters Leighann and Taylor have combined for 54 goals this season for the Lions, ranked 18th in Class B, pacing an attack that has scored five or more goals eight times.
Dryden opens play in the Section 4 Class B tournament Wednesday as a third seed with a 3:30 p.m. home game against sixth-seeded Chenango Forks.
So while Bennett hopes it does not have to be another seven years before her team is back in the IAC final, she’s not taking anything for granted.
“Were going to play our game and we’re going to play to win,” said Bennett.