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Williamsville North corners state title Win over Lakeland caps perfect season

The Williamsville North field hockey team was ready to pose for a picture on the field after Sunday morning's state championship game, but it kept the photographers waiting for a few moments. The team wanted the scoreboard in the background, so the picture would be perfect.

Just like Williamsville North's season.

The Spartans completed a 23-0 campaign by winning the Class A state championship Sunday, beating defending champion Lakeland, 2-1, before about 200 at Cicero-North Syracuse High School.

"It's like all the stars were aligned, that everything fell into place," said Williamsville North coach Kris LaPaglia.

North got goals from junior Emily O'Gorman and senior Leslie Ahern -- both on penalty corners, and both on assists by senior Chantae Miller -- to claim Section VI's third state field hockey title. Sweet Home won Class A in 2000 and Akron won Class C/D in 1992.

Miller, goalie Nicole Lewis and defender Adriana Meholick were named to the all-tournament team.

"We did it -- we seniors knew it had to be this year, that we were going out as champions and we weren't settling for anything less," said the Michigan State-bound Miller, who had 41 goals this season as she concluded an outstanding six-year varsity career. "I waited six years for this. In seventh grade, 'Pags' [LaPaglia] talked to us about the mission of a state championship, and it feels great to finally meet that."

The victory came against the same school from Section I (Westchester County) that beat North, 2-0, in the 2003 final. The 2004 team, when several of this year's seniors were freshmen, made the final four but lost in the semifinals.

"Three years later, they said, 'We need to win it,' " said LaPaglia. "Even through the ups and downs of this game, they weren't going to let anything get in their way."

The 2003 final loss to Lakeland was decided by two goals off of penalty corners. Those plays will often decide high-level field hockey games, and North was exceptional on them at both ends of the field.

North took the lead with 20:54 left in the 30-minute first half when freshman Allie Ahern started the penalty corner by feeding the ball from the goal line on the left side of the goal to Miller at the center of the striking circle (16 yards from the goal). Miller stickhandled to her left before using a reverse sweep -- where the player rotates her stick on its short end for backhand-type shot -- to send the ball in front. That's where O'Gorman deflected the ball into the back right corner.

"That ball doesn't go in if Emily doesn't tip it," said Miller.

At nearly the same point of the second half -- with 20:42 remaining -- North executed a great play on a corner. Allie Ahern again fed the ball to Miller in the middle, but this time the play call had her lay her stick flat to neatly stop the ball dead. That was so Leslie Ahern could wind up and whack the ball, and her great shot quickly thudded against the back of the goal for a 2-0 lead. It was her first goal on that kind of play all season.

"The shots never seem to come from me," said Leslie Ahern, "but I'm glad it worked today."

Lakeland (22-2) scored with under two minutes remaining, but never advanced the ball into offensive side of the field after that.
In the second half Lakeland had eight penalty corners, but each time was stopped thanks to penalty corner defenders Miller, Meholick, Leslie Ahern and senior Emily Curry. On the penalty corner, the defenders have to wait in the goal until the ball is hit. Nearly every time, Ahern was disturbing the play before Lakeland could develop it.

Lewis also had good stops on a few corners, as well as some slide-tackles that stopped Lakeland attackers on their way to the goal.

"Since freshman year we wanted to get back here and we said, 'There's no way we're losing this,' " said Lewis. "This is about as amazing as it gets."

e-mail: kmcshea@buffnews.com

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