All season, the Nardin girls soccer team had the goal of returning to the state Catholic championship game.
After winning Saturday's Monsignor Martin Association championship at the West Seneca Soccer Complex, the Gators have met their goal. Natalie Hojnacki and Kelly Haslinger scored in the second half to give Nardin (15-4-1) a 2-1 victory over Mount Mercy for its second straight title and third in four years.
"We just felt we had something to confirm to ourselves, that we wanted to go back (to the state final)," said Nardin coach Carlos Obiano, whose Gators have won the regular season title each of his four years as head coach. "I appreciate what every kid did for the team. It was phenomenal -- we had very good team chemistry."
The teams -- who split their regular season meetings -- were scoreless until Hojnacki converted a corner kick by Haslinger with 22 minutes left in the game. Ten minutes later, Haslinger dribbled through several defenders and rolled a shot into the lower left corner.
Mount Mercy made it a dramatic finish when Mary Panek scored on a scramble in front of the net with five minutes to play. However, Nardin sweeper Sara Shookus and stopper Erin McGorry had several key plays in the back while goalkeeper Emily Urbanski made one of her five saves in the final minute.
"In the last 10 minutes of game (Shookus) was the one that provided leadership in the defensive unit," said Obiano. "Mercy has fast forwards, and any time they had a chance they would take off. Our stopper and sweeper came up with a great combination of defensive plays."
Kathleen Quinn had 10 saves for Mount Mercy (10-4-2), which beat Nardin, 3-1, in the teams' first meeting this season. Nardin won the rematch, 5-3.
Nardin entered the game ranked second among small schools in Western New York. After the game, Hojnacki, a junior, was named the league's most valuable player.
Nardin will play a downstate representative in the state Catholic championship Nov. 13 at 11 a.m. at the West Seneca Soccer Complex. Nardin lost last year's state Catholic final, 1-0, to St. John Villa of Staten Island. Long Island and Staten Island are holding their playoffs this week.
"Overall it's been a great season and we look forward to that (state final) match," said Obiano. "The level of soccer in our league keeps improving, and our girls have worked so hard. Hopefully they'll get another reward on the 13th."