Clarence girls soccer coach Dave Stephan had a state chairperson ask him if he thought his team could get back to the state semifinals for a fourth straight year.
The Red Devils lost seven starters from last season. A lot of roles needed to be filled and a lot of roles needed to change on a team that had experienced so much success.
“And I said, ‘If I get to states this year, I’ll be coach of the year,’ ” Stephan chuckled. “I didn’t think we’d go back. I was trying to encourage them, but I really didn’t think that we had it.”
Well the Red Devils did indeed have it, and they can book yet another trip to Cortland.
An Emma Faso goal with 6:22 left on the clock was the only one Clarence (17-2-1) needed to beat Section V Fairport (17-3) in the Class AA Far West Regional at Williamsville South, 1-0.
“I never would’ve thought we’d be able to get back to states again,” Stephan said. “That’s what we talked about all year, going for a fourth time in a row, which is unheard of for us. We’ve scratched and clawed for every single win we’ve had this year, so this is so exciting. I’m kind of in shock right now.”
Faso somehow found room in a hectic scramble in front and trickled the ball past the goal line on a play that started on a free kick by classmate Megan McCraith from the left of the cage.
— BobConiglio (@BobConiglio) November 5, 2017
“Meg made a perfect ball right to the corner of the goal, and Cassie Bykowicz, it hit off her knee” Faso said. “All I saw was it at my foot, so I kind of just hit it, and it hit off all their players. I just kept moving my legs hoping I could get a foot on the ball, and I guess it went in.”
Clarence senior Grace Fabian was only credited with three saves, but she made two from point-blank range at the beginning and end of the second half and got some help from the crossbar midway through the second half on a free kick from 20 yards straight out.
Meanwhile in Class C, Allegany-Limestone struck early in both halves and added another goal late to spoil Marion’s perfect season with a 3-0 win.
“I think any time you score first, it’s a key,” Gators coach Dale MacArthur said. “I don’t know if it sends any messages or anything. It just gives you that confidence that we can score on these guys.”
Sophomore Alyssa Spring opened the scoring with her team-leading 38th goal of the season 2:53 into the game on a feed from classmate Molly McClelland. McClelland added a goal to her stat line 5:39 into the second half on a ball that bounced over a diving keeper.
The Black Knights (20-1), who haven't had to play from behind all season, turned up the pressure shortly after that. They hit two crossbars and had another quality chance go wide right within the next 10 minutes. Gators keeper Tierney Hemphill, also a sophomore, finished the game with 14 saves.
McClelland scored again with 16:53 left in the game on a high-looping shot that hit the crossbar and just made it over the goal line by mere inches.
Limestone keyed defensively on Marion's sophomore star Chloe DeLyser, who leads Section V in goals with 68. Limestone seniors Shealynn Maley and Brianna Kellner marked DeLyser together all game.
“I watched them play Addison and aside from one direct kick and a couple of put-ins inside the box, she’s the only one that shot,” MacArthur said. “Well, I’m not real smart, but I can figure out if we stop her, we got a real good chance.
“The two of them did a great job on her. She’s fast, skilled, left foot, right foot, it doesn’t matter. She’s just a real talent, and to hold her in check is a tribute to the whole defense, in particular those two.”
The Gators (19-1) are headed back to the state semifinals for the first time since 2002, when they were state co-champs along with Section III's Immaculate Heart.
— Corey Desiderio (@cpdesi1) November 4, 2017
In a rematch of last year’s Class A regional, Grand Island came oh-so-close yet again, losing to reigning state champ Spencerport, 1-0.
The two teams played 110 minutes of scoreless soccer last year before the Rangers won in penalty kicks, 5-3. There was another 17:44 played on Saturday before Spencerport’s Erin Coykendall scored the lone goal of the game. She was open down the middle and beat Vikings goalie Sarah Bykowicz one-on-one.
The Vikings started the second half with much more possession of the ball than they did the first 40 minutes, but Bykowicz (six saves) was forced to punch a pair of well-struck shots out for corner kicks to keep the deficit at one.
“She’s been a leader for years, so she just directs things back there,” Grand Island coach Dave Bowman said. “She exudes confidence. She makes that stop over there and then she stands there like it was no big deal. Honestly, you don’t see my team jumping up and down running back, slapping her on the back when she makes a save because they kind of expect her to make it.”
Grand Island nearly tied it up twice in the latter stages. With 11:46 left, sophomore Brooke Amato had a goal called back on an offsides. Junior Jordan Pachla had another shot, but the Rangers keeper made a diving stop to her left with 3:25 left.
The Vikings were able to return to regionals even though they graduated 11 seniors from last year. Four had three-plus years of varsity experience, including Division I players Madisyn Pezzino and Marcy Barberic.
“I told them I was extremely proud of them because we exceeded expectations from everybody, even myself at times,” Bowman said. “Nobody expected us to get here. Nobody expected this game to be close, and yet we’re here and we gave them a run for their money. We were just moments away from going to the state tournament and the final four.”