HERKIMER – Montana Wolf had just scored the biggest goal of her high school soccer career. At least, she was pretty sure she had.
Wolf’s high, looping shot went under the crossbar and over the outstretched hands of Downsville sophomore goalie Olivia Brunner 9:09 into the second half Friday evening at Herkimer College off an assist from sophomore forward Deslinn Rutan as the Cincinnatus girls’ soccer team, ranked first in the state among D teams, beat the Section 4 champion Eagles 1-0 in a NYSPHSAA Class D tournament regional game.
The win improved the Red Lions’ record to 19-0-1 and sent them to the state semifinals for the first time in program history. They’ll play a week from today on Homer Central’s George Butts Field starting at 12:30 p.m. against the winner of this evening’s game between Kendall from Section 5 and Section 6’s North Collins.
A big goal by Wolf indeed, then. But she wasn’t sure it had happened due to the black netting on the fence behind the goals at Herkimer, which have white nets. “I didn’t even know,” the senior midfielder said of her 12th goal this season. “The ball hit the net, but with the black net behind it everything seemed to move. Then everyone jumped on me – we have a dogpile every time we score – and we knew that we had to get on our horse to make sure they didn’t score.”
Mission accomplished, and then some. The Cincy defense disrupted developing plays by the Eagles time and again, and limited them to just three shots on goal (to 15 for the winners). Each team had five corner kicks, and Red Lions senior goalie Kara Steacy made two saves for the shutout, the fifth in a row and 14th of the season for her and the defense. Downsville goalie Olivia Brunner made 12 saves.
“We have every confidence in our defense, along with knowing that Kara is back there,” first-year Red Lions coach Lisa Sustad said. “Miranda Wolf and Gabby Gallow (senior defenders) have been phenomenal all year. (Senior) Delaney Rutan and (eighth-grader) Kyla Sustad get things going up front, along with (sophomores) Ariahna Metzler and Deslinn Rutan. I could talk about every member of this team; it was a team effort. This group works well together, passing, passing, passing. We love turf.
“We knew that Downsville’s number 18 (junior Kailee Young) and number one (center midfielder Zelda Adams) were the ones we had to defend against, and that if we played our game and kept possession of the ball we’d be OK. We had great opportunities but couldn’t seem to find the net; we were really unlucky with our shooting. I was concerned about that because if they’d been able to sneak one in it would have changed the whole game.”
“They were strong but not connective on top,” Montana Wolf said of Downsville. “They’d get the ball up there and just let those two (Young and Adams) go by themselves.”
The best chance the Eagles had at scoring came eight minutes into the game as Adams took a corner kick from the left side that Stacy had to grab in the midst of a tangle of players. “I was able to grab the ball, and they had a player right there,” Steacy said of her closest call of the night.
With shutouts in the two biggest high school games of her career, including the 0-0 tie last Saturday against Poland in the Section 3 D title game (Cincy advancing 4-2 on penalty kicks), Steacy said of Friday’s win that “This feels good, but not as good as Poland because we’d lost to them so many times.” She also cited teammate Olivia Byron, a senior midfielder, for her performance.
“You have to give Cincinnatus credit for their defense,” Downsville coach Burt Reed said, surrounded by emotional players whose 16-2-1 season had earned them the No. 3 ranking in the state. “There’s a reason they’re ranked number one in the state and have only given up six goals all season. We couldn’t quite connect inside the final third; it was difficult to get inside of them.
“Olivia played great; I don’t think she could have made the save on their goal. I thought the girls played well; losing 1-0 to a team like that is nothing to be upset about. It was a great season.”
The Red Lions had a number of scoring opportunities before breaking through, the best sequence coming with just under 10 minutes left in the first half. Kyla Sustad took a corner kick from the right side that resulted in a loose ball in front that got past Brunner and had to be cleared away twice in the space of about five seconds. Another corner kick was the end result, and the Eagles were able to clear the ball to end the threat.
This week marks the first time ever that Cincinnatus has been ranked atop the state Class D poll, and coach Sustad said that her squad was enthused and motivated by the honor. “They all shared it on social media as soon as it came out,” she said. “They were cheering when they found out. From the start, our goal for this season has been to win states, knowing that the last two games would be close to home.”
Sustad added that she would be scouting the Kendall-North Collins contest this evening.
“We’re excited,” Steacy said of the upcoming semifinal contest. “I think we’re going to do well; we just can’t go in overconfident that we’re going to win.”
“It’s so exciting to do this in our last year,” Montana Wolf said in summing up the thoughts of the Cincy seniors. “It’s something that we’ve always wanted. We’ll feel right at home at Homer.”
The Class D championship game will take place next Sunday on the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex’s White (soccer) Field starting at 10:30 a.m.