IRVINGTON – As the wins kept piling up for the Irvington girls soccer team in what turned out to be an unforgettable 2015 season, the Lady Bulldogs were so caught up in enjoying the moment that the gravity of the situation took some time to set in.
Before they knew it, they were 15-0 heading into the final game of the regular season.
“Our last (regular) season game, we won against Briarcliff, which is a really strong team,” junior Zoe Maxwell said. “Originally, we weren’t expected to win. But I think after that game, we all grew more confident and really started to believe that we could be something special.”
Briarcliff has been perhaps the most consistent Class B team in Section 1 in recent years, but Irvington’s statement win made it clear that this once-middling program was now a viable contender.
The Lady Bulldogs took their unblemished record all the way to the section final, where they suffered a stinging 1-0 loss to Albertus Magnus on a penalty kick in the 77th minute. But even with the title slipping through their fingers, the program is clearly trending upward.
“I think a big part of it was our team unity, and our trust in general,” senior Maxine Bell said. “I feel like before we had individuals and we weren’t working too much as a team, but last year we definitely worked more as a huge unit.”
The change of culture started when coach Patrick DiBenedetto came over from coaching the boys at Irvington prior to the ’15 season.
“Since I was brand new, I really didn’t know the other teams — which was nice in a way, but kind of bad in a way, too,” he said. “But I saw the talent that was here. The first few days of preseason, you could see the dynamic of the team developing. It was a surprise to see them keep pushing through. We’d come to an obstacle in the season, and we’d be like, ‘OK, we have to tighten up,’ and they’d rise to the occasion with another victory. Slowly, we were building.”
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The Lady Bulldogs had a small roster of 17, seven of whom have since graduated. But they do return their most prolific offensive players in Maxwell and sophomore Miranda Farman.
Maxwell netted an astonishing 32 goals in 19 games as a sophomore, while Farman led the team with 18 assists.
“My freshman year, I held back,” Maxwell said. “I guess I was a little timid, but after a few games when I started to score, I just felt like I could actually keep doing it and make our team more successful.”
DiBenedetto also noted Allie Pollack, Jess Greene, Natalie Aronson and Mel Geller as returners who played significant minutes during last season’s memorable run, which gives him the confidence that his team should once again be competitive.
An undefeated regular season is nice, but this year the Lady Bulldogs would like to finish the job.
“We just had our preseason talk about what did they gain from last season,” DiBenedetto said. “It was nice for them to have a reality check of, ‘Listen, last season was last season.’ We had some accomplishments, we were a fun-spirited team, and that was something that really got us through last season and made us as successful as we were.
“Hey, we were there, and we can be there again. It’s going to come down to our ability to play together as a team.”