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Following script: D'Youville women's soccer heads back to AMCC semifinals

There's a sense of belief on the 2018 D'Youville women's soccer team. No matter that the Spartans lost their first eight games this year, or that they hadn't scored a league goal in nearly 300 minutes entering the playoffs.

DYC has hopped hurdles such as these all season, and even in the dreary, bone-chilling rain-wind mix on Saturday at Dobson Field, Jim Hesch's squad pounced on No. 6 seed Franciscan, 2-0, in the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference quarterfinals. The Spartans will travel to No. 2 seed Mount Aloysius for a 5 p.m. semifinal Oct. 31.

Two goals in the first six minutes by D'Youville crushed the Barons' spirit. Sophomore Makenna Magee, the Spartans' leading scorer, capitalized on a gift in front of goal in the second minute, and then her old sister, senior Magan Magee, followed by lobbing Franciscan keeper Sarah Luebking off a Kaylee Heschke corner kick three minutes later.

Hesch's team took few risks in the attack over the game's final 84 minutes, methodically wearing down Franciscan by thwarting the visitors' forays forward and keeping them from prime scoring chances.

Spartans center back Dominique Riforgiato, left, helped anchor a solid defense. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

"That's who we are, that's our identity," Hesch explained of his team's defense-first mindset. "We have to be organized, connected, hardworking, and we've got [goalkeeper] Meg [Dulniak] back there in case anything squeaks through.

"We were fortunate enough to get those goals early and then bunker down and defend like we've been doing all year."

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The Spartans' conservative 5-3-2 formation to begin the game - which evolved into a Greece-like 5-4-1 with the lead - was effective because the two starting strikers, Makenna Magee and Britt Cristofanelli, boasted the speed to chase long balls in behind the Barons' defense and cause considerable worry for a slower back four.

D'Youville's center-back triumvirate of freshman Anna Hayes, Dominique Riforgiato and Magan Magee stayed compact and aggressive, throughout, with wing backs Cassie Brooks and Isabella Lucania helping on the flanks.

Holding midfielder Heschke shielded the back line beautifully, winning tackles with grit and physicality that had the Barons pleading for fouls - that never came - throughout the afternoon.

"It's unbelievable," Heschke said of the pride in the Spartans' defense. "Starting last year, we're just bought in to being back and central, clearing the ball as wide as we can, that's what makes us successful in the end."

Dulniak was credited with four saves, but the senior from Cheektowaga was never truly tested. Now with seven clean sheets on the season - including the scoreless draw in the first meeting between Franciscan and D'Youville - the sure-handed goalkeeper has preserved 28 shutouts in her impeccable Spartan career.

Although D'Youville has lost in the conference semifinals in five of the last six years, overlapping into the reign of former coach Lew Potter.

Kaylee Heschke, left, eyes a header against Franciscan in the AMCC quarterfinals. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

But after missing out in Hesch's first season, the former Buffalo Blizzard (NPSL) player has reset the standard for the Spartans program.

"At the end of last year, after the last game, I mentioned that that's the norm," he said. "We expected from the last game last year was to be in this spot, and the girls executed and pulled through.

"We'll try to go one better, if not two better, and get to the AMCC championship and win a conference championship."

The belief extends to his players, too, as Heschke echoed the sentiment.

"We think this is our year to win the whole thing, so one game at a time is going to get us there."

*D'Youville's starters: Megan Dulniak; Isabella Lucania, Anna Hayes, Dominique Riforgiato, Magan Magee, Cassie Brooks; Marina Campbell, Kaylee Heschke, Margret Leeds; Britt Cristofanelli, Makenna Magee. Subs used: Jamilah McBryde, Laurie Poeller, Victoria Mayer, Katelyn Eigenbrod.

*Read more: Status of all Buffalo-area college programs who've made the playoffs, below.

Sizing up the playoffs: Which Buffalo college soccer teams qualified?

Email: btsujimoto@buffnews.com

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