After completing the most dominant season in New York state boys soccer history with an overwhelming performance in the Class C state championship game, Elmira Notre Dame’s players lined up and dove into the grass together like a group of happy little kids.
It was a reminder that they are, in fact, teenagers, even if the brand of soccer they produced over the last three months had more of a college feel.
Goals came from six players Sunday morning for the Crusaders, who completed a 21-0 season with a 9-1 victory over Solomon Schechter in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class C final on the grass field at Middletown High School.
Alec Cutler, who on Saturday broke the state record for assists in a season, led the barrage with two goals and four assists. Rocco Coulibaly and Aidan Sharma also scored twice in a contest the Crusaders dominated from the start.
Michael Woglom, Brooks Glovins and Gavin Harrington added a goal apiece to help Notre Dame win the first state championship in the program’s history. Mitchell Vargas contributed two assists and Glovins’ day also included an assist.
The Crusaders finished the season with a state-best goal differential of 186-5, breaking Oneonta’s 1999 state record for goals in a season by 22. A 4-0 win over Waverly was the closest margin.
“We were just ready to play game by game,” junior co-captain Connor Bayne said. “If someone told me at the beginning of the season that we were going to win the state championship, I wouldn’t have believed them.
“The team is just phenomenal, this group of kids. Just look at the scoreboard: Nine to one in the state championship. There’s nothing that beats that.”
Last year’s unbeaten season ended abruptly when Notre Dame was forced to pull out of the state tournament after downing Lansing 2-0 in the Section 4 final. The Crusaders learned just before that game that one of their players was ineligible because he did not meet transfer standards, leading to the school decision to withdraw from states after a review.
That was brought up sparingly this season by Notre Dame, which instead focused on turning in another stellar season with a roster that was largely the same as 2014, including seven seniors.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” said senior co-captain Cutler, who finished with 44 assists this season. “We kind of had a sad end to the season last year and we just came out and showed what we can do when we put our minds to it.”
If anything, last year galvanized the Crusaders, who displayed a combination of teamwork, skill, speed and tenaciousness in controlling the flow of every game. Senior Ryan Steed said the Crusaders’ ability to work together and pick each other up when needed played big roles, with that unity again on display Sunday.
“We knew this was a big stage and we had to get it done,” he said. “We wanted to show what we could do, so we tried our best and got a good result. That’s what we were looking for.”
The opponent mattered little this season, with Notre Dame outscoring its six foes in the sectional and state tournaments by a combined 45-1. That included a 6-0 victory over Greenville in Saturday’s semifinal.
Notre Dame outshot Section 1 champion Schechter (13-5-2), a private school from Westchester County, by 27-5 and had eight corner kicks to none for the Lions. Schechter’s goal came from Noam Goldberg with 7:20 left and several subs in for the Crusaders.
“They’re kind of what I expected,” Schechter head coach Bryan Lamana said of Notre Dame. “I was kind of hoping we’d be able to hold on for a little bit longer because they kind of came at us right out of the gates. But they were a fantastic team. We would have had to have played a perfect game just to stay with them.”
The fact the Lions were down only 3-0 at halftime was largely a credit to the play of goalie Noah Dunn, whom Lamana said had been making game-saving saves throughout the entire postseason. He finished with 15 Sunday before leaving with a minor injury in the second half.
After near-misses by Sharma and Coulibaly, Cutler broke through with 32:25 left in the first half off an assist from Vargas. Less than three minutes later the Vargas to Cutler combination made it 2-0.
“Solomon Schechter is a great team. I have to applaud them for their effort,” Cutler said. “They gave us a game in the first couple of minutes. It’s just all about going out there and playing the way we know how to, no matter what team we’re playing.”
Coulibaly hopped over Dunn on a breakaway and put home the third goal with 13:50 left in the half. Notre Dame put 16 shots on goal in the first 40 minutes and the Schechter defenders had trouble keeping up as the Crusaders lobbed long passes over the top or used their speed to create space on the outside.
“We were really pumped,” said senior Ryan Lanning, who assisted on Harrington’s goal that made it 9-0 with 8:21 to play. “We’ve just been waiting, waiting all year for this, so we were ready. The scoreboard reflected that.
“I’m just really glad to be a part of this. It’s like a family. This is the best team I’ve ever played on.”
Sharma produced the fourth goal 10 minutes into the second half. Six minutes later, Coulibaly scored for a 5-0 lead. Goals from Woglom, Sharma, Glovins and Harrington followed.
As has been the case for most Notre Dame opponents, the Lions tired after chasing Notre Dame players around all day.
“Solomon does not have a real deep team, so I talked a lot about maintaining possession,” Crusaders head coach Brian Adams said. “Keep them chasing the ball as much as you possibly can and we’ll probably wear them down, which obviously we started to do.”
Following the game, players and fans from both teams gathered together for an awards ceremony inside Middletown High School, where Cutler and Dunn were presented trophies as their team Most Valuable Players for the game. Adams talked about losing his World War II veteran father this year and told the crowd that it’s the journey, not the destination, that really matters. With multiple Notre Dame players describing this team as like a family, it was clear this journey was something special.
“It’s amazing,” Adams said. “Like I said to them, I’m just happy to be along. It’s a privilege for me as a coach to be a part of it. We worked at it together, they bought into it. They really love the style of play that they have and it’s reflected on the field. They’re passionate about it. They invest in the sport for 10 or 11 months a year.”
That investment paid off with a championship trophy Sunday.
“It’s very rewarding,” Steed said. “Through all the long sessions in the hot summer on the turf and the early mornings when it’s freezing, it’s so rewarding to be able to celebrate now with my teammates. It’s a great feeling. It’s great to be able to celebrate with the great people on this team.”
On Twitter: @SGAndrewLegare