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November 13, 2009

 

McGraw facing mirror image

SoccerBob Ellis/staff photographer
Kierra Mack leads McGraw with 28 goals heading into Saturday’s Class D state soccer game against Schenevus.

By TANEY BEAUMONT
Staff Writer

Despite not having faced each other this season, the McGraw Central and Schenevus girls’ soccer teams should feel familiar with each other when they meet at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Hall of Fame Fields in Oneonta in a state Class D quarterfinal game.
“They’re a lot like us,” McGraw coach Dave Law, his 19-0 Eagles the freshly-minted Section 3 Class D champions, said of the Dragons, the Section 4 Class D winners. “They’re really strong defensively, and their goalkeeper (junior Catherine Hernandez, who’s made 49 saves this season) is very mobile and good-sized. They also have two very good defensive players in the middle in sweeper Jamie Bentley (senior) and stopper Tara Keaney (junior).
“I think it will be a defensive game even though both teams have quick forwards and outside midfielders. We’ll have to buckle down. There could be a lot of shots, but I have a feeling that lots of them will be long because neither team will be able to get inside like they like to.”
Each team has 17 shutouts this season, and each has allowed only two goals. In Schenevus’s case, both came in a 2-1 loss to defending state D co-champion Edmeston last month, the only setback in 18 games, including a 2-0 win over Davenport Saturday for the sectional title. McGraw beat Hamilton 5-1 in its second game of the season, the championship of the Sherburne-Earlville Tournament, and then had 15 straight shutouts until Poland scored in what ended up a 3-1 Eagles victory last week in the sectional semifinals. That was followed by another shutout, 3-0 over Remsen, Saturday with the sectional crown at stake.
McGraw, the top-ranked Class D team in the state, has piled up 108 goals this season while the Dragons, ranked sixth among D squads, have scored 49 times.
“Our strength is in the fact that we have a lot of experience back this season and the will to do well in every game,” Schenevus coach Stephanie Banks said. “We have a lot of speed and quickness, and rely on that. We knew coming in that we could have a really good season. Jamie is a five-year starter on defense, the last three at sweeper. A key is having good rotation at all of the positions, a lot of depth.
“In addition to Jamie, some of our other standout players are her twin sister Jessica, a midfielder and our leading scorer with 14 goals (and eight assists); center midfielder Cassandra Brown (senior) and forward Brina Herr (junior), who’s next with 11 goals (and eight assists). Even in the loss to Edmeston, we played a great game but couldn’t finish. I think we’ve peaked all season. The girls have gelled and played together as a team.”
“Schenevus is different than other teams we’ve played in that they, like us, have four girls who do the scoring, and are balanced,” Law said.
The Eagles are led in scoring by senior forward Kierra Mack, with 28 goals (plus 10 assists); senior striker Nicole Law with 27 goals (15 assists); sophomore forward Kaitelyn Leonard with 18 goals (and 18 assists) and junior midfielder Casey Millard with 10 goals (and 12 assists).
With opponents heavily marking McGraw’s senior standouts, Millard, with four goals and four assists, and Leonard (four goals, including two in the title game, and two assists) have stepped up big in the three post-season games so far. So has junior goalkeeper Hayley MacLean, who made a season-high eight saves in the win over Remsen.
“We know that number 17 (Leonard) is one of their key players,” Banks said, and their keeper is outstanding. I can’t imagine that she’d have given up more than two goals all year. It’s going to to take us playing our game to beat them. Any time you can sub in and your level of play doesn’t drop, you’ve got some depth, like us and like McGraw. We’re pretty similar.”
The Eagles won the sectional D title for the first time since 2006 Saturday after falling in the title contest the last two seasons. “The girls are ecstatic; they’re very happy to have won sectionals,” Dave Law said. “Winning 8-0 (against Oriskany), 3-1 (Poland) and 3-0 (Remsen), they’re playing pretty strong.
“Nicole and Kristen were on that 2006 team, and they’re talking to the other girls; that experience is an advantage for us. They’re trying to make them understand that we need one more win before we go to the state Final Four dinner. We’re only part-way there.”
Both coaches say they’re relatively healthy coming in, escaping pretty much unscathed from the flu that is prevalent everywhere this fall. Eagles freshman defender Nicole Purcell was carried off the field during the second half of the championship game with an ankle injury, but Dave Law said she’s ready to go against Schenevus.
And as for the venue of the state quarterfinal contest?
“They (Schenevus) wanted to play on grass,” Law said. “We play very well on turf, but have no problem playing at the Hall of Fame; we’ve won a tournament there three or four years in a row. All of the girls have been there at least twice this year, some of them three or four counting the summer. An hour and a half trip isn’t a bad deal; it will be a nice, quiet one.”
“It could go one way or the other,” Banks said. “The advantage for us is that we don’t have to travel, but McGraw has an advantage in that on the trip they can bond together. It depends on how they use the time.”
Law noted that he’s been pleasantly surprised by the level of support his team has gotten, not just from McGraw but from the area as a whole. “It’s amazing, the calls and support we’ve gotten,” he said. “Girls from other Central Counties League teams are calling to support us and saying they’ll be at the game, and we’ve heard from lots of other people, including public figures, as well. It’s astounding the number of people who have called or sent notes, saying they’re proud of us and are still watching.”
The winner of Saturday’s game will advance to the state semifinals a week from today at a local field (SUNY Cortland, Tompkins Cortland CC or Homer Central) against either Section 5 champion Arkport or Section 6 winner Maple Grove. Those two teams were to meet tonight in another state quarterfinal contest.