There are many numbers and tidbits you can mention to shine a light on the brilliance of the Elmira Notre Dame boys and girls soccer teams this season.
But here is their dominance at its most basic level: The eight goals scored by the Notre Dame boys in the Section 4 championship game against Lansing matches the combined goals allowed this season by both Crusaders teams. They are hoping to maintain that high standard this weekend, with each sitting two wins from a state title heading into their respective New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class C final fours.
The top-ranked Notre Dame boys (19-0) take on Section 2 champion Greenville (18-3) of the Albany area at 8:30 a.m. Saturday on the Middletown High School turf field, with the championship set for 10:30 a.m. Sunday at Middletown’s grass field. Section 5 champion Geneseo (19-1-1) faces Section 1 titlist Solomon Schechter (12-4-2) at 11 a.m. in Saturday’s other semifinal.
Notre Dame’s girls team has a shorter trip, with the Crusaders (17-1) meeting Schoharie (18-1-1), another Section 2 team from near Albany, at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Cortland High School, preceding the 5 p.m. semifinal between Section 11 champ Port Jefferson (13-2) and Section 5 champion Caledonia-Mumford (19-2). The final is at 9:30 a.m. Sunday at SUNY Cortland’s rec field.
While a lot is at stake for both Notre Dame teams, each has already turned in a special season.
“Even today we’re extremely proud of what has been accomplished from both the girls and boys programs this year,” Notre Dame boys head coach Brian Adams said. “I think someday they’ll look back and say it was amazing seasons for both teams regardless of what happens this weekend. It’s something they’ll grasp onto for the rest of their lives.”
Defense also a strength for boys
Notre Dame’s boys have already scored more goals than any team in New York state history with their 171, which included a 5-0 win over Section 3 champion Thousand Islands in the state quarterfinals. Perhaps lost in that offensive onslaught is the quality shown by the Crusaders on the defensive end in surrendering just four goals.
“We prepare a lot defensively and a lot of people don’t think about that because they look at what we’ve done from an attack standpoint,” Adams said.
The other part of Notre Dame’s ability to keep teams from scoring is the Crusaders’ big edge in possession time. With Greenville coming off a 3-1 win over Potsdam and a 1-0 victory over Lake Placid in the state tournament, it’s obvious the Crusaders will be contending with some skilled players Saturday as they try to put themselves in position for the program’s first state title.
“Looking for a lot of pace, a lot of tempo, letting them dictate the game with our possession,” Adams said of his team.
Last year unknowingly using an ineligible player deprived Notre Dame of a trip to states after winning the sectional title. Adams said his players showed resiliency in the manner they bounced back from that disappointment. Notre Dame’s lack of experience at this level of the state tournament is offset by the players’ attitudes and year-round commitment to the sport.
“They’re great kids with a lot of maturity and a lot of passion and vision to what’s at the end of the season,” Adams said. “Hopefully it will continue through Saturday and we’ll see where we go from there.”
Adams pointed to the leadership of co-captains Alec Cutler and Connor Bayne as being “tremendous” both in practice and during the rare moments in games when things are in disarray.
Rocco Coulibaly leads Notre Dame with 35 goals to go with 21 assists. Cutler has 21 goals and his 38 assists are one off the state record for a season. Bayne, Aidan Sharma and Mike Woglom have 23 goals each.
Adams has been impressed with practice sessions leading up to this weekend, with the Crusaders having some early-morning practices to prepare for Saturday’s early start time.
“There’s definitely a lot of anticipation and excitement, more so than nerves. Everything seems really good right now,” he said. “We’ll see. Obviously, I think the mode they’re in right now is the only way things don’t go right for them is if they beat themselves.”
Injury a concern for girls
Last week the Notre Dame girls knocked off the state’s top-ranked team, Sauquoit Valley, 2-0 in a quarterfinal. The third-ranked Crusaders face the new No. 1 in Class C on Saturday when they play Schoharie, whose only loss came by a 3-0 count against Sauquoit Valley.
This is the Crusaders’ first trip to the final four since the 2003 team won the school’s only state title in soccer.
Since a 2-0 loss to Dryden in the Interscholastic Athletic Conference Large School final, Notre Dame has outscored its four opponents in the sectional and state playoffs by a margin of 15-1.
“That’s one of the good things about this group is they’ve continued to get better and better as the season’s went along,” longtime Crusaders head coach Steve Weber said. “Our practices this year have been some of the best practices we’ve had in quite awhile. We kept a large roster this year and we have a lot of girls who can push each other in practice and I think that’s made a big difference.”
The Crusaders’ recent run included a 4-1 victory in the Section 4 final over Lansing, which beat Notre Dame last year for the sectional title.
“When you beat a team of that quality in a big game, that became a successful season right there,” Weber said. “Anything that happens after that is just adding even more to it.”
Fifteen girls have scored this season for Notre Dame, which has outscored its opponents 87-4. Laurel Vargas leads the Crusaders with 23 goals and 10 assists, Emma Booth has 21 goals and 19 assists, and Camille VanderMeer’s totals are 11 goals and 10 assists.
There is some concern about Booth, however. She sprained her ankle against Sauquoit Valley and Weber said it will be a game-time decision if she plays. Booth was able to do some jogging Thursday but hasn’t practiced all week.
“That’s a major concern is what her availability is going to be this weekend, with everything she does for us, creating on offense and coming back on defense,” Weber said.
Weber hasn’t seen Schoharie but knows the Indians pack some offensive punch, with three girls with more than 20 goals this season.
On Twitter: @SGAndrewLegare