A celebration of epic proportions could be a few days away for the highly successful soccer programs at Lansing High.
Both teams are two wins away from a state Class C championship and will take the first step toward reaching the goal Saturday. The girls (19-0), ranked No. 1 in the state, will undoubtedly have a large, vocal group of supporters when they face Section 1 champion and third-ranked Haldane (15-2-3) at 9:30 a.m. at Tompkins Cortland Community College. The winner will face either Section 6 champ Holland (17-1-1) or Section 7’s Adirondack (15-2-2) in the final at 10 a.m. Sunday at the SUNY Cortland Red Field.
The No. 2-ranked Lansing boys (19-1) left Friday morning for Middletown High and will meet Section 5’s Williamson (17-4-0), No. 4 in Class C, at 5 p.m. at Faller Field. The winner will take on either Section 2’s Lake George (19-1-1) or Section 8 champ and top-ranked Friends Academy (13-2-2), at 3 p.m. Sunday, also at Faller Field. It is the Lansing boys’ third straight trip to the final four.
GIRLS: The Bobcats, ranked first in the state for six weeks, spent the early part of a lousy weather week on the turf at The Field in preparation for their semifinal on TC3’s synthetic surface. Second-year coach Eric Stickel said Friday that his team expects another physical battle, but that it’s more about staying sharp and less about the opponent.
“Mostly what I’ve tried to stress is that as long as we do what we’re capable of doing and playing our game, we’re going to be fine,” he said.
Stickel, a 2003 Lansing graduate, noted that with two playoff games over the past two weeks, his girls are more anxious to play a game than they are nervous about the big stage.
“We’ve got a lot of practice in,” he said. “I know the girls are excited to play. All the extracurricular stuff that goes with going to states, like the banquet (Friday night), is great, but ultimately we can’t wait till 9:30.
The Bobcats have outscored their opponents, 87-5, and are led by junior co-captain Shea McCartney, the Bobcats’ leading goal-scorer and a fifth-team all-state forward a year ago. Stickel said she’s become more assertive on offense, particularly in the playoffs.
“I’ve notice a different Shea in the last three weeks,” he saids. “She’s been just so focused; she’s always been a leader, there’s never been a question about that, but she’s really starting to assert herself more. This time of year is when great players shine, and she’s really kind of carried the load up front for us.”
McCartney had seven goals in Lansing’s three sectional victories, and while she didn’t have a goal in last weekend’s 2-0 defeat of Beaver River in the regionals, she’s been a force all season and Stickel expects more of the same this weekend.
“I want her to be greedy up there in the offensive third,” he said. “Her job is to put balls in the back of the net. She’s starting to understand that and assert herself a little better.”
Stickel’s squad took a 1-0 lead less than a minute into its regional game, and the coach said having a similar quick start Saturday, in its first appearance in the state semifinals, is key.
“The first goal at this time of year is huge,” he said. “I don’t expect us to score in the first minute necessarily, but if we can get an early goal and set the tone, we’re going to be all right. If we get down a goal, we’ve been there before and we’ll just have to work a little harder.”
Haldane, also making its first trip to the state semis, is led by sophomore forward Bailey McCollum (16 goals, 9 assists, 41 points) senior center-midfielder Jess Harrison (8-7-23) and senior goalkeeper Cali Schweikhart, who’s posted 12 shutouts this year. The Blue Devils have outscored their opposition, 59-9.
BOYS: Veteran coach Adam Heck said his squad, which moved up five spots in this week’s state rankings, has benefited from the long rest between playoff games. Specifically, senior defender Jake Palladino’s hamstring injury, which kept him out of action for several weeks earlier in the year, is “about 100 percent,” Heck said.
“Having these long layoffs between games has actually helped him,” the 18th-year coach said. “I haven’t seen him really pull up at all in the last couple of weeks, so I think he’s back to 100 percent.”
Practices haven’t been too stressful, Heck added, saying that the team worked out once on the turf at The Field, and also practiced Thursday on Ithaca High’s Bredbenner Field.
“Really, it’s just about staying sharp and keeping your timing, you’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “You make slight adjustments and talk about a game plan for our opponent, but soccer’s pretty unique in that once you establish your style, that’s what you’re going with. You tweak here and there, but I think you just have to stay sharp and get a lot of touches on the ball.”
Lansing lost to Port Jefferson in the 2011 semifinals and again in last year’s title game — both by 1-0 scores, with both goals coming off the foot of all-state striker Blake Bohlen. The Bobcats could be forgiven for feeling like this year should their turn, but Heck knows better.
“Williamson was here last year, too, so they’re kind of in the same boat,” he said. “They want it, too.”
Senior Jason Yahn has a team-leading 20 goals for Lansing, but Heck said that recently he’s looked to become a little more of a distributor, too.
“He’s definitely one of our focal points in the attack,” Heck said. “But now that teams are keying on him, has done a much better job of looking for other guys. That makes him very dangerous.”
Yahn is one of four seniors — along with Palladino, striker Alex Schutz and midfielder Andy Parkes — for whom this is their third trip to the final four. They’re especially driven to finally bring home the prize this year, and Heck hopes the rest of the team can feed off their energy.
“It’s a different team every year … but we have four guys that this will be their third time,” Heck said. “So for them, we’re not coming here for anything less (than a title). But for the other guys, it’s getting them on that same page. We had 13 seniors last year, so for a lot of the guys on the field, this will be their first time with a lot of minutes in a big semifinal game.”
Williamson is led by Josh McIntosh, the Section 5 Class C1 most valuable player, who scored two goals in last week’s 4-1 defeat of International Prep-Grover in the western regional. Section 5 all-star Thomas Ferland had the other two Williamson goals in the regional.