CORTLAND — The Wheatland-Chili girls soccer team was seeded eighth in the Section V tournament. Do you know how many eight seeds make it to the state championship match?
But there the Wildcats were on a bright sunny Sunday afternoon at SUNY Cortland, the last Rochester-area soccer team playing this fall. But Wheatland-Chili met its match, losing 2-0 in the Class D state championship to Section III’s Copenhagen. The Golden Knights, who won their first state crown since 1993, made a pair of first-half goals on long shots by top-scorer Claire Stackel stand up.
“We knew she was a great player and they play through her a lot. She’s an outstanding player,” W-C coach Gary Ward said of Stackel, a 28-goal scorer and daughter of Copenhagen coach Katherine Stackel. “They were just a little quicker to the ball than we were overall and they came out of the midfield nice when they attacked. I was very impressed. They played a great game.”
W-C (16-7-1) came into the weekend on a great defensive run, having shut out seven straight foes dating to an Oct. 9 loss to Kendall. It beat No. 9 seed Genesee Valley (5-0 score), No. 1 Fillmore (2-0), No. 5 York (1-0) and No. 2 Naples (2-0) to win the Section V Class D1 crown before blanking D2 champion Andover (2-0) in the state tournament qualifying match and then Section VI champion Ellicottville (2-0) last weekend.
“Being a No. 8 seed in sectionals and to get this far I think is a testament to these kids,” said Ward, who in his 34th season was chasing his second state title, the other coming in 1991. “In the postseason, I thought we played awesome.”
The Wildcats gave up a goal in Saturday’s 3-1 state semifinal win off a set piece, but goals from Cassie Parker and Hannah Callaghan won it in overtime. They’d outscored opponents 56-20 headed into Sunday. Stackel was no typical opponent, though. She was exceptional.
In the ninth minute, she was given too much space near the 18-yard line and ripped a shot inside the left post. Senior goalie Abbie Berl had no chance at it. The Section III champions were aggressive in shutting off W-C’s possession-oriented passing game. Copenhagen (17-4-2) actually employed that style throughout the season, too, but Stackel’s right foot was the difference on Sunday.
The senior made it 2-0 with just under 15 minutes left in the first half by blasting a 28-yard shot a foot beneath the crossbar. It may have been aided by a breeze that was at Copenhagen’s back in the first half, but it was again well-struck and well-placed.
“They were great strikes,” Ward said. “They deserved both (goals). They really were.”
The Wildcats controlled much more of the play in the second half and kept the ball in Copenhagen’s side of the field, but either the final pass in the final third wasn’t good enough or the Golden Knights were first to the ball. That was the case a few times on corner kicks and free kicks, including a 25-yard free kick by Abbey Callaghan that a Copenhagen defender headed clear with about seven minutes left.
“We did our best,” W-C senior defender Taylor Clar said.
She was one of four team captains with Taylor Ghysel, Taylor Seilheimer and Megan Nolan. The Wildcats wanted to etch their name in school history as its second state champion to go with the 1991 squad. Instead, they ended their season like Ward’s two other squads that made it to the final weekend of the season in 1988 and 2004.
“I’ve never been so proud to be on a soccer team or captain a soccer team. Everyone worked as hard as they could,” Clar said.
“Today we just ran up against a better team,” said Ward, who knows that sometimes that’s just how it goes in sports. “But these kids can’t be denied. We ended up with a great, great season – very proud of them.”