For the third consecutive year, Lansing and Elmira Notre Dame will meet for the Interscholastic Athletic Conference Large School boys’ soccer championship.
But while the teams will be the same for Saturday night’s match at Tompkins Cortland Community College, a lot of things have changed.
The results might not say it, but this year’s Bobcat squad (14-1) is different from the ones that went to back-to-back state final fours and came within a goal of the state championship a year ago, falling to Port Jefferson 1-0 in the final.
Those teams had veteran leaders like Ellington Hopkins, Sean Streb, Benji Parkes, Cobi Byrne and Spencer Warkentin at the helm. The ship is being steered by a new crop of players intent on making some history of their own.
“We’ve established a pretty good rivalry with (Notre Dame), but every year it’s a new set of kids and a new set of leaders,” Lansing coach Adam Heck said Friday. “I think they’re embracing this pretty seriously and they’re very excited about it.”
Notre Dame brings a 13-2 record and No. 20 state ranking into the 8 p.m. clash. The evening will start at 6 with the girls’ Large School final — also featuring Lansing (14-0, ranked No. 1 in Class C) against No. 5 Notre Dame (12-0-3). Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for students.
Lansing’s boys have already lost a game this season, unlike the previous two editions that went into the state final four with unblemished records. This year’s team lost its penultimate regular-season contest, 2-1, to division rival Trumansburg, boosting the Blue Raiders from 16th to sixth in the state.
But it is all about the postseason for Heck and Co., and the process of bringing a new crop of players along.
“We’ve had to have some kids raise their level and raise their roles within the team,” Heck said. “Last year, I think kids fell into roles that they expected; this year’s been a little different. We’re asking kids to do a little more as far as our depth, and minutes on the field. We haven’t been completely healthy over the last three weeks and we’re getting there, so that’s changed kids’ roles, too.
“But from a standpoint of our approach, we’re a little more businesslike,” he said. “We’re going to work and we’re going to hopefully be excited after the game, but during the game, we’re going to really focus and work hard.”
The Lansing offense has been led mainly by senior striker Jason Yahn, the team’s goal-scoring leader, and junior midfielder Alex Purcell.
“Jason’s had a remarkable year, he’s grown so much over the last couple of years,” Heck said. “We don’t care who scores, we just want to win … but you do need a kid who can put the ball in the net, and Jason’s done that for us.
“Alex is more of a creator, and he doesn’t stop working,” Heck said. “That’s something every team needs, and we have a few of those.”
Junior keeper Bryce Stanhope is in his first year as the starter, and has not been tested too much in most of Lansing’s regular-season games. But Heck knows that “for us to win Saturday night and for us to move on in sectionals, he’s going to have to make some saves for us. I expect to see him a little busier Saturday night, for sure.”
An “X” factor for the Bobcats has been keeper-turned-striker Donovan Baird, who looks like he should be playing American football. He came into the season wanting to play out on the field and has been a pleasant surprise, Heck said.
“It was just about finding him a spot and getting him healthy,” Heck said. “He changes our attack in a very unique way; you don’t expect a kid like that out on the soccer field, but he’s really good with the ball, and he’s a tough mark.”
In Notre Dame, Heck sees a technically sound, organized group.
“They’re well-coached, they go hard to the ball and they’ve got a great finisher up top,” Heck said, referring to Crusaders senior Li Molingou, who has scored a team-record 30 goals. “They have everything a well-coached team is going to have. And they’re motivated to win, for sure. They’re going to be a dangerous team.”
Girls final: Coach Eric Stickel’s Bobcats will be looking for a little revenge against Notre Dame; it was the Crusaders who ended Lansing’s season a year ago, 1-0, in the Section 4 Class C semifinals.
Lansing is led by the McCartney twins, juniors Maura and Shea (fifth-team all-state in 2012), along with keeper Sarah Gisler. The Bobcats rose to No. 1 in the state two weeks ago.
Notre Dame will also be looking for a little IAC retribution — last year, Dryden defeated the Crusaders, 2-1 in overtime, in the Large School final. Coach Steve Weber’s Crusaders are playing for the title despite having to replace eight starters from last year’s sectional runner-up.