Winning a state championship is supposed to be harder than the Allegany-Limestone girls soccer team made it look.
Coach Dale MacArthur knew his Gators were talented at the start of the season, but he wasn’t sure if the team knew just how good it could be.
Allegany-Limestone piled up lopsided win after lopsided win, only losing to eventual Class A-2 champ Pioneer. MacArthur was concerned about them heading into the Section VI playoffs, having not really been tested except for the Pioneer loss and games against Hamburg and Section III’s Poland, which lost in the Class D state final.
“I was worried that would not do us any favors come time for sectionals,” MacArthur said. “As the season went on, we avoided complacency and didn’t stop working hard. This team was not like that at all. Once we got to the playoffs, each game they seemed to get better. We played our best at the end.”
The Gators outscored their six postseason opponents, 20-5. The final one was the closest, a 3-2 win over Section II’s Stillwater that gave the program its first outright state title. They were state co-champs in 2002 and runners-up in 1998.
“I never detected any nervousness. There was no ‘oh my gosh’ moment that was too big,” said MacArthur, who completed his 30th season. “They exhibited no classic signs of pressure to me. In the end, probably the final game was the poorest one we played in the whole tournament progression, but at the end of it all they rose to the occasion.”
The championship run landed sophomore midfield Molly McClelland a spot on the 2017 All-Western New York first team and classmate Alyssa Spring, a forward, on honorable mention.
McClelland scored 14 goals and led Section VI with a school-record 22 assists. Spring scored 43 goals, good for second in the section. She scored all three in the state final.
The duo added to the postseason accolades a couple weeks later when the 26th annual All-State Girls Soccer Teams were released.
McClelland was awarded the Class C Player of the Year, and Spring joined her on the first team. MacArthur was named the Class C Coach of the Year. Senior defenders Anna Seamon and Brianna Kellner were on the fourth and fifth teams, respectively.
“I called all of our all-state players as soon as it came out,” MacArthur said. “Molly and Alyssa were coming back together from a tournament in Cincinnati. I think Molly’s exact words were, ‘That’s crazy.’ I know she was thrilled about it.”
Meanwhile, coaches nominated Williamsville North senior Maya Palmer as the Section VI Player of the Year. A starter for the Spartans since seventh grade, she was named to the all-state Class AA first team as a senior after earning third team as a junior. Thirteen of North’s 14 wins came via shutout, as the team gave up nine goals all season. Palmer is headed to Old Dominion University in Virginia next year.
Clarence junior Cassandra Bykowicz, who carries a 4.0 GPA, joined Palmer on the state Class AA first team at defender. She helped the Red Devils reach the NYSPHSAA semifinals for the fourth year in a row.
Pioneer’s Meghan Root was on the All-WNY second team in 2014 and 2015 but missed all of 2016 due to a hip injury. The senior made up for lost time by leading Section VI in scoring. She holds Pioneer’s career records for goals (126) and assists (63).
Her coach, Frank Asquith, was named the Section VI Coach of the Year.
Newfane’s Emily Foltz and Kayleigh Daniels, who’s headed to Daemen next year, both moved up from the second team. Foltz netted a hat trick in the Class B-1 semifinals, while Daniels scored the game-winner against Niagara-Orleans League rival Akron to advance to the Far West Regionals for the second year in a row.
Grand Island’s Grace Stranahan will join Daniels at Daemen in the fall. She capped off her five-year career with two straight sectional titles and a regional co-championship in 2016. Junior defender Alexa Chiarenza was part of a Vikings defense that allowed only seven goals this season.
Wilson keeper Emily Kelly is one of three, along with Palmer and Chiarenza, who are back on the first team. She has kept a 4.0 GPA while playing three varsity sports (soccer, basketball, track) since her sophomore year. She was named NYSPHSAA Class B MVP in 2015 after leading the Lakewomen to the state final.
Williamsville East freshman Bella Buscaglia is the youngest player on the first team, just like her older brother, Trey, who is the only junior on the boys first team. Senior teammate Tess Ford and her share the same favorite moment of defeating Hamburg, 1-0, in the Class A-1 semifinals. Ford assisted on the goal by Buscaglia.
In addition to being named to the ECIC IV first team and team MVP all five years on varsity, Hope Balling is also first in her class at Tonawanda with a 4.0 GPA. Her favorite moment was assisting on eighth-grader Abby Opalinski’s first varsity goal during the Class B-1 quarterfinals against Olean.
Nichols junior Marisa Warren scored 18 goals and had 22 assists in her third varsity season. Playing with the boys on her club team helps her to play faster and stronger during the high school season.