Elmira Notre Dame scored three times in nine minute span of the second half to pull away from defending champion Lansing and score a 4-1 come-from-behind victory in the Section 4 Class C girls’ soccer championship game on Friday evening at Norwich High’s Ulrich Field.
Freshman Laurel Vargas scored twice to spark the surge for the Crusaders (16-1), while senior Mia Herlan and junior Maura Glovins had single goals. Junior keeper Mackenzie Maloney made four saves.
“I’m just so proud of these guys,” veteran head coach Steve Weber said. “After last year’s championship game (3-0 Lansing win), and looking across and seeing how many returners they had, I thought, ‘Wow, it’s going to be a long road for us.’ But the kids came in this year and the work ethic’s been incredible. We just kept getting better and better.”
The Crusaders, in winning their first sectional title in four years, now advance to state regional play next week.
Lansing (13-5-1) took a 1-0 lead just over 11 minutes into the second half on a goal by Megan Dean, assisted by Maddie Boerman. Sophomore Lena Gisler made six saves for the Bobcats, who were outshot, 11-7, for the game.
Notre Dame broke through on a scrambly goal off a corner kick about 8 1/2 minutes after Lansing had taken the lead, and that led to the floodgates opening for END.
“We had that game,” Lansing coach Ken Kutler said. “We have a system that we use to protect a lead, and if we’d survived the corner kick, we’d have won, 1-0. But we didn’t survive it, so we had to go back to regular, and then when we fell behind we had to risk it with three (defenders) in the back. That’s the way it goes.”
Neither team was able to sustain much offense in a scoreless first half. The Bobcats held a 3-2 edge in both shots and corners, thanks to some improved offensive pressure over the final 10 minutes of the 40.
Notre Dame got its first shot off nearly eight minutes into the game, and one of its best chances came off a corner kick about 25 minutes in. But the ball rattled around the penalty area in a scramble, before being cleared away by the Lansing defense.
Bobcat junior Megan Dean had a breakaway with just under nine minutes before the break, but a Crusader defender chased her down and swept the ball out of harm’s way before she could get a shot off. Then in the final two minutes, a corner from Emma Dhimitri eventually found its way onto the foot of sophomore Kassie Riemer, but her rising shot from the top of the box was handled by Maloney.
Lansing broke through on a goal that came somewhat out of nowhere. Boerman chased a ball down toward the end line, sending it high into the box just before it rolled out of bounds. The ball floated across the crease to the far post, where Dean was rewarded for a strong run with the goal.
“It was kind of a strange goal,” Weber said. “But the thing I was happy with is that we’ve got some seniors in this group that are tough, and I’m so happy for them to finally have the opportunity to go to states. We just kept battling, and once we tied it at 1, it just looked like our confidence level really shot through the roof.”
And onto the scoreboard: Vargas converted a breakaway for her first goal, with 14:10 to play, then doubled the Crusader lead with 6:29 left off a feed from Reilly Edger. Glovins capped the scoring off a Emma Booth free kick, flicking the ball past a helpless Gisler.
Weber credited his always-stready defense for another solid effort, givinng particular praise to the midfielders.
“Last year, they really outplayed us bad in the midfield,” he said. “This year, they just played so tough. We kept trying to get (all-state midfielder) Emma Booth on Boerman, wherever she went to, and that really seemed to work out for us, too.”
Kutler praised his young team, which entered the season having lost several key players from last year’s state-runner-up.
“It was a great season,” he saiad. “We lost an all-state goalie (Sara Gisler) and an all-state striker (Shea McCartney), but our young players did well. With the amount of playing that some of our freshmen had, I thought we did pretty well.”