GENESEO — Sophomore stopper Olivia Wall shut down the most prolific scorer in girls state soccer history and converted the clinching penalty kick to lead Spencerport into the Class A state tournament semifinals for the first time in school history.
The Rangers and Section VI’s Grand Island played to a 0-0 draw on Saturday night at State University College at Geneseo through 110 minutes and four overtimes, but Spencerport survived, 5-3, on penalties to earn the Far West Regional title. Luca Fahmer, Leah Wengender, Erin Coykendall, Aleah Martone and finally Wall all converted for Spencerport (19-0-2). Grand Island goalie Sarah Bykowicz got a hand on Martone’s shot but the junior midfielder had enough power behind it and it went in.
Sophomore goalkeeper Lauren Opladen made the only save in the shootout, diving to her right to block a shot by GI’s second shooter. “I kind of have a strategy,” explained Opladen, who won a shootout last year in the Section V quarterfinals while playing for her former school, Greece Arcadia. “The first foot they step back with is normally the side (the shooter goes) to. I struggle with going with my instinct. I just went with it and luckily it came out.”
The Rangers play Pearl River (Section I) in the semifinals at 3 p.m. Saturday at SUNY Cortland. They’ve shut out seven straight opponents and 15 overall. Spencerport hasn’t allowed a goal since Oct. 7, nearly a month.
“It was a very high-level game, fast-paced,” Spencerport coach Jamie Schneider said of Saturday’s match. “It was tough to keep fresh legs out there.”
He put a lot of the broad shoulders of Wall, but the player with the perfect last name to be a shut-down defender rose to the challenge. One of Spencerport’s four team captains, Wall was assigned to cover Grand Island’s Madisyn Pezzino, the senior forward whose 252 career goals are the most in state history. The Florida State-bound Pezzino had 73 goals this fall.
“I tried to limit her turn and I knew that she had a big shot from far out, so I knew if I could make sure she had to play the ball back that she couldn’t turn and shoot,” Wall said. “I’ve shut down other players in the past on other teams. I knew what I had to do … my defense helped me when I couldn’t do that. It was a great team win.”
Pezzino directed a couple of long shots late in the first half on goal, but Opladen handled each and Wall was quite OK with letting the left-footed Pezzino settle for shots from distance. “Olivia has had that responsibility many times before in Monroe County and she came through again tonight. Excellent, excellent performance by her,” Schneider said.
He also chose her as the fifth shooter. “When it came to put the order in she looked confident so we went with her,” he said.
Wall admitted she was very nervous.
“You’re always nervous, but I knew where (the goalie) was going to dive. I knew where I always hit,” she said. “I was confident in myself, so I just hit it where I knew I could put and I finished it so it was great.”
Coykendall, one of the leaders in Spencerport’s talented sophomore class, had maybe the best look at goal 6:45 before intermission. But her 12-yard header off a corner kick went just wide. Yet another Spencerport sophomore, speedy Venessa Watson, also had a couple of half-chances in the opening 40 minutes but couldn’t convert.
The Rangers, coming off their first sectional title since 2007, also had a golden chance just 5:20 into the second half, but senior Isabella DiGuardi hit the right post from 10 yards after a chaotic sequence in front. Later, Coykendall dived in the middle of the box to get to Martone’s cross but the header by the Rangers’ top scorer (20 goals) went just wide again.
Wengender had another great opportunity in the second half, as Coykendall laid off a square pass perfectly in the box, but Bykowicz made the save across her body. On the other end, there was no cracking the air-tight Spencerport defense that includes Wall, junior sweeper Nicole Pecora, senior Chandler Stephany, junior Olivia LoPresti and junior Ana Lawrence.
“Everyone works together,” Pecora said.
Wall probably wasn’t alone in expressing this sentiment after the heart-pounding win. “Honestly, the best night of my life. It doesn’t get better than this,” she said.
Leah Wengender with maybe the best chance of the game and what a great save by the grand island goalkeeper. pic.twitter.com/hDdkWEocKd— Jeff DiVeronica (@RocDevo) November 6, 2016