November 13, 2008


Purple Tigers on the prowl for title

CHS will meet Rye in Class A semifinal


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Morgan VanGorder (22) of Cortland High is a junior defender for a stingy Purple Tigers defense that hopes to keep Rye under wraps in the Class A state semifinals Friday at TC3.

Staff Writer

Two girls’ soccer teams with a lot in common will collide at 11:45 a.m. Friday at Tompkins Cortland Community College in Dryden when Cortland High and Rye High from Section 1 meet in the state Class A semifinals.
Both teams have reached this stage of the season for the first time and have only recently become prosperous.
Cortland, the two-time defending Section 3 Class A champ and the fourth-ranked A team in the state this week, won its first sectional game just three years ago. Rye, meanwhile, is now ranked second statewide in just its third year of playing in the fall after being a spring team for years.
Cortland dominated Section 10 champ Massena 4-1 on Saturday to get to this stage, while on that same day Rye scored a 3-0 victory over Section 9’s Cornwall — which lost for the first time in 21 games this fall.
Asked if Saturday’s easy win was meant in part to convey a message heading into this weekend, Purple Tigers coach Abbey Albright said that “I wouldn’t say it was a statement that we were trying to make. It was just another game that needed to be taken care of in order to advance in playoffs. The girls have played hard all season, especially during these playoffs.” 
The Purple Tigers (18-4-1) have scored 66 goals and surrendered 17, while the Garnets are 16-4-1, having also allowed only 17 goals and scored 57. CHS has gone on a 17-2 scoring tear in its five post-season games, including a penalty-kick win over perennial power Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake from Section 2 in regional play following a scoreless tie.
Rye has outscored its four playoff opponents 11-0.
“Rye’s team seems very similar to ours,” Cortland coach Abbey Albright said. “I’ve talked to a few coaches and have read quite a bit about them. We know they have two girls up top that are very skilled players — (Alexandra) Rimmer and (Lia) Bellizzi. Their keeper (Tatiana Saunders) is also very solid in the net.”
“We’re coming together as a team. That’s our theme, ‘Together,’” Rye coach Rich Savage said. “Everyone has their job on the field, and getting those jobs done makes for an efficient team. At this point, every team that’s left has picked up its style of play.
“Our regular season and our four losses really focused us; we wanted to play as tough a schedule as we could to prepare ourselves for post-season play, and we had a lot of games with Class AA or private schools. It helps the girls to see that there’s always a next level of play.”
As for Cortland, Savage said:  “We have a little bit of a scouting report, and know they have two top forwards (senior Katherine Hunsberger and junior Aubrey VanGorder) and a tall girl (senior Casey Mark) at midfield who’s very good in the air. We know that Cortland is very strong and plays well, and that they’re going to be a difficult challenge for us.
“They have home-field advantage. We anticipate that they’ll have lots more fans, especially with the game on Friday morning, but we don’t want to focus on things we don’t have control over. We just want the girls so stay together, and stay focused, and it should be good. It’s a new experience for us, and there’s a lot of excitement. It should be a great game.”
“We’ve played at TC3 a number of times over the years,” Albright said. “Having the game so close to home is wonderful. The team is ready for the fan base; it gets them pumped up for the game.”
The Garnets are a young team, starting seven sophomores, two seniors, a freshman and a junior. They are led in scoring by senior forward Rimmer, with 23 goals and two assists, and sophomore forward Bellizzi with 19 goals and 10 assists. Saunders, a sophomore, has logged the majority of the goalkeeping time, giving up 13 goals in 18 games and making 157 saves. Rye has eight shutouts to its credit all told this season.
“Alexandra and Lia are both very talented strikers who developed gradually into team players who pass the ball well,” Savage said. “Our defense as a unit has done a good job of figuring out other teams. Cornwall had a 30-goal scorer, and we shut her down, allowing her just one or two shots.”
VanGorder leads Cortland in scoring with 19 goals and five assists, while Hunsberger had 16 goals and seven assists and Marks five goals and 10 assists. Junior goalie Hannah Polanko-Baker has played in 20 games and given up 15 goals while making 77 saves. CHS has blanked 13 of its 23 opponents.
Albright has a record of 50-13-3 in her three years at the helm of the Purple Tigers, culminating with this fall’s success. “What an incredible journey it has been for everyone,” Albright said in summing up the season. “So many of these players have worked with one another for such a long time. We have just been playing such great soccer.”
Four-time defending state Class A champion Rockville Centre South Side (9-3-6) faces Section 6’s Williamsville East (21-1-1) in Friday’s other semifinal, at 11:45 a.m. Friday at Butts Field in Homer.
The semifinal winners will meet for the state championship at noon Saturday at TC3.