The Elmira Notre Dame girls scored goals in the first and second halves of Saturday’s Class C state quarterfinal against Sauquoit Valley and the stingy Crusader defense did the rest, holding the New York State Sportswriters top-ranked Indians in check.
Notre Dame, which has only allowed four goals all season, downed the previously unbeaten Indians, 2-0, at Dick Hoover Stadium in Vestal.
“Our defense has been solid all year, just rock solid,” Notre Dame head coach Steve Weber said. “We went in with our game plan of what we had to do and they came ready to play today.”
Senior co-captain Emma Booth scored within the first five minutes of the game and sophomore Camille VanderMeer headed in a shot off of a Laurel Vargas free kick with 18:55 remaining to send Notre Dame (17-1) to their first final four appearance since 2003.
“We came out expecting a tough match and they were a very strong team but we played tough,” VanderMeer said. “It was a really great team effort and everyone worked really hard for this.
“I’m just really excited that we can move on.”
Seventh-ranked Notre Dame advances to a semifinal match with Section 2 Schoharie at 2:30 p.m. November 14 at Cortland High School Field 1. Schohaire defeated Section 10 Pottsdam, 1-0, in their quarterfinal on Saturday.
“I’m so proud of our team,” Booth said. “We have not made it to this point and the school has only done it once before, so I’m pretty excited about this.”
The championship game will be held 9:30 a.m. November 15 at SUNY Cortland Red Field. Notre Dame’s only state title came in their 2003 run.
Sauquoit Valley (20-1) exerted a lot of pressure on the Crusader defense throughout much of the game. The Indians finished with a 10-9 shot advantage and a 4-0 edge in corners but couldn’t find the back of the net. Mackenzie Maloney made sure of that, making six saves, many on tough shots by the Indian’s duo of Elma Sarajlija and Adrianna Grande.
“Anybody that is going to beat us is going to be a good team. We knew that coming in,” Sauquoit Valley head coach Tim Clive said. “Unfortunately they put the ball in and we didn’t. It’s a tough loss.”
To better defend the strong Sauquoit forwards, Notre Dame switched their standard defensive formation from the 3-5-2 they’d used all season to a 4-4-2 by adding midfielder Mia Herlan to the defensive front. The move paid off.
“We didn’t really have a choice,” Weber said. “They have three really tough girls up top and we normally play with three defenders but they weren’t going to be able to match up with them, so we had to switch to a fourth. Mia did an incredible job in the back today.”
Herlan and regular defenders, Sara Watts, Mackenzie Mahajan and Victoria Shutrum clogged up the box and repeatedly cleared balls away from Sauquoit’s potent offensive front.
“This team is an outstanding team and just the way their set up was, we knew what we had to do to try to match up,” Weber said. “I think for a large part of the game that did help us.”
What really helped was scoring early on and Booth accomplished that on a free kick from the left side that sailed over the line of defenders and through the hands of the Indians freshman goalie Allison Moreau.
“Whenever we score early in the game it gives us a ton of confidence and we just go and play harder,” said Booth, who left the game midway into the second half with an ankle injury.
Down, 1-0, the Indians offense ramped up the pressure right from the start of the second half with one opportunity nullified when an inadvertent whistle blew from the stands stopping play as a Sauquoit player was moving in one-on-one to the Crusader keeper.
Play was stopped and Carl Jones, Vestal High School’s head of buildings and grounds, shouted out a warning to fans in the stands.
Booth’s injury came at 20:49 and without they’re top offensive threat the momentum swung to the Indians but that confidence seemed to shut down two minutes later when VanderMeer put the Crusaders up, 2-0.
“That was a huge goal at that point because Emma had come out of the game,” Weber said. “Being able to do that gave us a little more opportunities to settle back a little bit and not have to worry so much.”
Of the play, VanderMeer said. “It was just a great ball by Laurel. I really can’t take much credit for that I just had to keep my eye on it and follow it in.”
Facing a two-goal deficit, Sauquoit Valley began to play a more physical game to create some opportunities but the Crusaders stuck to their game plan to close it out.
“I have to give them credit. They were probably the toughest team we’ve played all season,” Vargas said. “I think the main thing we did well was hold our composure and not get over-physical when they got over-physical with us towards the end of the game.”