Six consecutive sectional championships and zero goals allowed this season. Whether you prefer prolonged excellence or single-season dominance, the Vestal girls soccer team has you covered.
The Golden Bears continued their unblemished season Friday with a 3-0 victory over Johnson City in the Section 4 Class A championship game at Waverly Memorial Stadium.
Freshman sub Olivia McKnight scored all three goals as the Golden Bears added another title to go with their Southern Tier Athletic Conference championship and earned a berth in the Class A state quarterfinals.
“We were ready for this game and we all came out and worked together quite strong and got the win,” McKnight said.
The Golden Bears (17-0) face the winner of the regional semifinal between the Section 1 and Section 9 champions at 12:30 p.m. Nov. 7 at Johnson City High School. National power Somers plays Pearl River for the Section 1 title this weekend and is a strong candidate to be the Bears’ foe at Johnson City.
“It could be the Somers team. Defending (state) champs, 39 wins in a row and (ranked) second in the country,” Vestal head coach Bill Stepanovsky said. “I hope they win because I’d love to play them. What the heck. We have nothing to lose and those are the games you look forward to. We really have to bring our A-plus game to play them, but we’re up for it.”
McKnight broke a scoreless tie with 12 minutes, 46 seconds left in the first half when she put home a shot right in front of the net after gathering in the ball following a corner kick from classmate Kaitlyn Cooke. Courtney Franz assisted on the score.
“It’s a huge lift off our shoulders,” McKnight said of the first goal. “It takes weight off our defense and everybody.”
Johnson City came within inches of becoming the first team to score on Vestal this season when Megan Carpenter hit the bottom of the right post with 5:28 left in the first half. The ball caromed in front of the net but was cleared by the Golden Bears.
“I thought we were a little sluggish and we’ve got to continue to work on execution,” Stepanovsky said. “Our first touch was not very good today and that results from not executing. I give Johnson City a lot of credit. They worked hard and they didn’t give us anything easy. We finally settled down some. But you control the ball 95 percent of the time, it doesn’t matter. They hit the post and that could be a whole new ballgame.”
Aside from the post, the Wildcats had few quality chances, with the play tilted in Vestal’s favor for most of the 80 minutes. The Bears finished with a 15-3 edge in shots.
McKnight scored her second goal off an assist from senior Madeline Beaulieu with 16:43 left in the second half. She completed her hat trick with 5:19 left, converting a feed from her sister, Victoria McKnight.
“It was great balls and then just taking a touch and putting it in the net,” Olivia McKnight said of her big night.
Said Stepanovsky of Olivia McKnight: “She’s special. Her and her sister and the other ninth-grader we have, Kaitlyn Cooke, they bring a lot to the team. It’s a different style that they play. They move the ball around and they’re composed and they can finish. They have a nose for the goal.”
On Twitter: @SGAndrewLegare