November 7, 2008


In uncharted territory

Purple Tigers to face Massena in second round test


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Jenna Phelps (17), controlling the ball during last Friday’s win over J-D in the Section 3 Class A soccer title game, is a vital part of a Cortland High squad that meets Massena Saturday in the second round of the state tournament.

Staff Writer

For one team, it’s a long trip into uncharted territory. For the other, it’s a short jaunt to a familiar, though lately unfriendly, post-season position.
The Cortland High girls’ soccer team makes its first-ever foray into the quarterfinals of the state Class A tournament when it faces Massena at noon Saturday on Potsdam High’s turf field. The two-time Section 3 Class A champion Purple Tigers, ranked seventh in the state this week, come in at 17-4-1 (the winningest team in the program’s history) after advancing past Section 2’s Burnt Hills 4-3 in penalty kicks following a 110-minute scoreless tie on Tuesday.
The eighth-ranked Red Raiders, meanwhile, are 16-3 after beating Malone, the section’s only other Class A team, 3-1 for their fifth straight Section 10 crown last Saturday. They’ve lost all four of their previous state quarterfinal encounters, the last three to Burnt Hills by scores of 2-0, 2-0 and 1-0, respectively.
“Since there are only two Class A teams in Section 10, Massena has played one sectional game to get to the same place we have, playing three sectional games and a regional,” Cortland coach Abbey Albright said. “Hopefully our momentum and the hard work we’ve done to get to this point will continue. It’s to our advantage.
“The girls have been playing hard the last two weeks and playing at the level we have been, I think, will help. Massena is definitely going to bring it,” she added.
One bit of a difference for Massena this season is the fact that Ryan Hayes has taken over as coach from long-time head man Tim Ahfeld.
“Tim did a great job of setting the groundwork and laying the foundation for this program,” said Hayes, a former SUNY Potsdam player. “The girls are definitely excited. We know Burnt Hills is a good team and figured it would be a good game on Tuesday. We’d heard good things about Cortland. We’ve done a lot to prepare for this one. We have some information on Cortland, since I know coaches in the Syracuse area and they were at the game.
“They definitely have forwards who are tough. (Junior) Aubrey VanGorder is lightning fast, and another, (senior) Katherine Hunsberger, who is very technical. We’ll have to be cautious on defense and work to prevent through balls,” added Hayes. “On offense, we’ll need to make passes and smart runs, and try to create some chances. We definitely work from the back up, pride ourselves on conditioning and can move the ball pretty well offensively.”
Massena continued its string of sectional domination despite losing its to top scorer, junior forward Kristen Paller, to a season-ending fractured fibia near the end of the regular season. “We have an eighth-grader, Dominique Valencius, who has moved from midfield to forward and filled in well for Kristen,” Hayes said. “She stepped up and played well in our sectional championship game, scoring two of our three goals.
“Some of our other top players are senior center midfielder Anna Riley, junior outside back Nicole Johnson, senior sweeper Erin Tyo and a couple of sophomores who are playing well, midfielder Nyssa Laclair and defender Coree Phillips.”
Other than Paller, the top scorers for the Red Raiders are Laclair (13-5-31), Riley (7-13-27) and senior forward Alanna Darling (5-14-24). Senior goalkeeper Taylor Bacon has surrendered 12 goals in Massena’s 19 games, during which her teammates have dented the enemy twine 58 times.
Cortland comes in on a 10-0-1 streak in which senior keeper Hannah Polanko-Baker and the defense have surrendered only two goals, compared to the 33 that the Purple Tigers have scored. In the postseason, Cortland has scored 14 goals and given up just one, that coming from Fulton once the sectional semifinals were settled. That game ended up 5-1 for CHS, on the heels of a 6-0 quarterfinal win against visiting Carthage and leading to a 2-0 championship-game win over Jamesville-DeWitt.
For the season, Polanko-Baker has played almost 19 full games and given up 15 goals  (0.80 goals-against average), while Cortland as a team has scored 62 goals (2.82 a game) and given up 16 (0.73 GAA).
VanGorder is the team’s leading scorer with 18 goals and five assists for 41 points, followed closely by Hunsberger at 15-7-37. Senior midfielders Jenna Phelps and Casey Marks are next on the scoring chart, Phelps with 6-3-15 and Marks with 3-9-15.
“The girls just keep playing strong,” Albright said. “Fortunately, the way the schedule has been, they’ve had time to recover between games. They do a good job of focusing on what’s going on, and are aware of the need to communicate with each other when they need to make adjustments.”
Hayes feels that having the game so close to home, in his old college town (“I’m excited”), is a definite plus. “It’s a nice benefit, and will definitely help us out in terms of having fans there,” he said. “When you don’t have to travel, and can sleep in your own beds, it’s helpful.”
The Purple Tigers are making the trek northward this afternoon and staying overnight in, ironically, Massena. Albright noted that her team also has its own hometown motivations.
“They’re only 20 or 30 miles from Potsdam and will have quite a fan base, but we have two spectator buses coming up Saturday,” Albright said. “The girls are well-prepared, and that will get them up even more. They’re also excited because they know that with a win they’ll advance to the state Class A Final Four, which will be played back here (Nov. 14 and 15).
“They’ll wake up on Saturday and go play. We played on Halloween (for the sectional title) after the girls had gone trick-or-treating in school that day, and played Burnt Hills early so we had to eat lunch and leave school early. They can handle things like that just fine.”
A win would put the Purple Tigers in the state semifinals against either Cornwall from Section 9 or Rye from Section 1 at 11:45 a.m. a week from today at Tompkins Cortland CC. That is also the site for the championship game, at noon the next day.
Albright comes into Saturday’s game with a record of 49-13-3 in her three seasons as Cortland head coach, including two sectional Class A titles and appearances in the sectional finals in all three seasons. “Each year I’ve focused on the strengths of our players while constantly working on what needs improvement,” she said of her success. “Getting the girls to play as a unit is essential in order to have a successful program and team. The girls have to support one another on the field and also have to be able to trust each other.
“I think that the camaraderie that the girls have is the biggest aspect of why we have been so successful as a team. They just don’t play for themselves, they play for each other. They really support one another, and have a lot of fun doing it. They’re like one big family.”