NORWICH — The end of the season came Saturday for the Marathon girls’ soccer team as the Olympians lost to Section 3 champion Poland 3-1 in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Central Region Championship game at Norwich High School.
Marathon (12-6-2) may have lost the game, but coach Beth Anne Duncan and her Section 4 champion girls did so while earning loads of respect from the number one Class D team in New York State. The Olympians were ranked fifth going into the game.
“I scouted Marathon last week in the Section 4 final and they came out very strong,” Poland coach Tom Basel said. “I am really impressed with their team, their program and their coaching.”
With the wind at its back, Poland (21-0) put a lot of early pressure on the Olympians. Despite five really good scoring opportunities, the Tornadoes were denied by Marathon goalkeeper Kristi Walley and a number of other potential scoring chances were thwarted by the Olympian defense.
Poland finally got on the board with 12:44 left in the first half when Riley Wisheart got an brief opening and delivered a strong left-footed shot into the upper left corner of the goal for the 1-0 lead.
Marathon tried to build up some runs and got into shooting range, but the quickness of Poland kept any real shots from being taken.
With 5:13 left in the half, Logan Cookinham won the race with Walley for a loose ball at the left side of the box. Cookinham just poked the ball inside the right post for a 2-0 cushion that held up until halftime.
Walley made five saves on eight shots taken by Poland in the first half. The Tornadoes had three corner kicks as well.
Marathon came out with a different attitude to start the second half and began pressuring Poland’s defense. There was still a bit of wind to aid the Olympians, but it was dying down and the game wound down.
The Tornadoes missed the first scoring opportunity of the second half when Cookinham rifled a shot off the cross bar two and a half minutes into play.
Two minutes later, Marathon pulled to within 2-1. Brooke Tillotson worked herself free and floated a shot over Poland goalkeeper Emily Schrader right in the middle of the frame. The ball dropped in under the crossbar and it was a new game.
The Olympians continued to apply pressure, but Poland withstood the assault and slowly began to retake control of the game. Marathon only got two more shots on goal and Schrader stopped them both. Those three second half shots were all the Olympians got in the game along with one corner kick.
“I feel, besides a couple quick mental mistakes, this team (Poland) is too fast to have any moment of lapse,” Duncan said. “To be honest, if I had to put money on it, Poland is probably our state champion. For us to stay with them says something about our team. We played hard today, especially in the second half. We made a couple of adjustments and really stepped up. You can shoulda, woulda, coulda, but we did make them sweat for a few minutes Those are the things we will look back at as positives.
“I told them at any point to test the keeper,” she continued. “We didn’t test her at all in the first half. We had some chances to take a shot, but we didn’t get rid of the ball quick. They got on us very fast so at any point you have to take a shot.We had two opportunities in the first half and we didn’t even get a shot at the keeper. Brooke placed that one perfectly right over her head. I thought the first five minutes of any half is the most important and we came out to play. It showed a little bit about their integrity and their grit that they came out to play in that second half.”
Poland used short, crisp passes and started fired shots at Walley. The senior keeper made seven more saves for a total of 12 in the game. With 9:03 remaining, Wisheart dribbled through four defenders and deposited a shot into the lower right corner of the goal for a 3-1 cushion to really seal the game.
“We knew the wind might be a factor,” Basel said. “They have some good athletes, especially in the center mids, so we had to keep an eye on them so there was a lot of tactical planning involved. They were really strong enough to put some pressure on us and put a little fear into us. I’m proudest of the way we settled down in the last 20 minutes. We started knocking the ball around and possessing it more than them.”
Wisheart finished the game with two goals and came through like she has so many times this season.
“Riley has been there all season long,” Basel said. “She’s been with me since eighth grade. I coach her year-round and she is a super striker. She’s a natural-born goal-scorer. Her, Amanda Sweet’s dominance in the back, plus Leah Basel and Jordyn Squire possessing the ball in the midfield were the difference.”
“Poland has a lot of foot skills and the way they play together is key,” Duncan said. “They are talking all the time and pointing to where every single ball is going to go. They play so well as a unit. We were just playing catch-up at some points. They are a good senior-led team. That’s what you need to make a good post-season run. They are experienced for sure.”
Poland was derailed last year in the Section 3 championship game by Cincinnatus on penalty kicks after tying through regulation time and overtime. 2019 has been a new mission with more focus.
“We had a lot of time to think about how things ended last year,” Basel said. “It was in the back of everybody’s head and our job, as coaches, was to keep everybody grounded and take it one game at a time. “
For Marathon, this has been a superb season, including a post-season run that saw three higher state-ranked team fall on the way to the Section 4 title. There has been a lot to be proud of this season.
“Our girls have played soccer forever,” Duncan said. “We have had success in the past and they should be proud of where they are at. They are a little surprised at how well we did this post-season, but they shouldn’t be. Everyone says you have to play your best soccer in the post-season and I think we did.”