November 19, 2009
Final Four Fun
McGraw happy being home to take on powerful Arkport
Two teams, each with its own advantage, will meet at 9:30 a.m. Friday morning when Section 3 champion McGraw Central takes on Section 5 winner Arkport at the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex’s White Field in the New York State Class D girls’ soccer semifinals.
The Eagles (20-0) will, of course, for all intents and purposes be playing a home game after downing Section 4 champion Schenevus 2-0 in overtime in the quarterfinals at the Soccer Hall of Fame last Saturday
The Blue Jays (20-1), on the other hand, are making their sixth straight appearance in the state Class D Final Four, including a 2006 championship in which they scored a 2-0 semifinal win over McGraw. Arkport returns 10 starters from last year’s semifinals squad.
Section 7’s Chazy (20-0) and Smithtown Christian (11-4-1) from Section 11 will meet in the other D semifinal, also at 9:30 a.m. Friday at the Stadium Complex’s Red (main) Field. Friday’s winners will vie for the state championship at 10 a.m. Saturday at Homer Central’s Butts Field.
“They’re mature, and have been here so many times that they know what to expect,” third-year McGraw coach Dave Law said of Arkport, which beat Section 6’s Maple Grove 2-0 Friday in the quarterfinals. “We have two girls who were on the 2006 team (senior striker Nicole Law and senior center midfielder Kristin Guy), and they’re trying to increase the excitement among their teammates. The thing in our favor is that it’s basically a home game for us. We can go home after the Thursday night banquet and bus back Friday morning, while they’ll be staying overnight, and it will be like an away game for them.
“Hopefully they won’t take us for granted. We’re going to go out and be ready for them. We’re delighted to be here, and the girls don’t want to stop. We’ve had good practices this week. They’re excited and happy.”
“It’s kind of like a rivalry,” Guy said of the relationship between the two teams. “Maybe we can get them back this time. We’re ready.”
“We have a little bit of a rivalry going on,” Nicole Law said. “We don’t like them very much.”
“One of our strengths is our experience, with the game itself and also in the Final Four,” said Arkport coach Melody Harwood, now in her 25th year in that post. “We have eight players on this team, including three we brought up from the JVs, that were on the 2006 championship team. Knowledge of the game and confidence are also strengths for us.
“My main concerns are our ability to transition quickly and finish as a team, and the flu that we’ve had, though we’re getting better.”
Law can sympathize with the latter, as he has been missing girls every day in practice this week, but said the Eagles should be at full strength for Friday morning’s game.
Arkport’s top goal-scorer is junior midfielder Brittney Smith, who has scored 20 times and added 11 assists this season. Senior forward Brianna VanScoter has 17 goals and 23 assists for a team-high 57 points, while junior forward Alexis Flint has 17 goals and seven assists, senior midfielder Britni Burch 14 goals and 11 assists and sophomore midfielder-forward Morgan VanScoter (Brianna’s sister) 10 goals and 13 assists. All but Flint and Morgan VanScoter were on the 2006 team. Junior goalkeeper Ashley Swarts, another member of the 2006 squad, has made 164 saves this season and allowed 11 goals (while Arkport has scored 96) and has 12 shutouts.
In talking about her top players, Harwood mentioned her team and league award-winners, including the players already mentioned, plus senior defender Danielle Henry and junior defender Jordan Harwood, both also members of the 2006 team.
“Smith seems to be the team leader,” Dave Law said. “She’s very well-skilled, and very fast. Flint and Brianna VanScoter are a pair of very good forwards. They like to bring the ball up the center to the middle of the field, then bring it wide down into the corners. Our defense should work well against that, with Kristin and Elizabeth Niver (senior stopper) in the center. Nicole Purcell (freshman right fullback) and Brogan Jones (senior left fullback) will have to be ready to go wide. We haven’t had a lot of teams take us wide before.
“Overall, Arkport is very quick with a lot of ball control, and they take a lot of quick outside shots. Hayley (MacLean, the Eagles’ junior goalkeeper) has been doing well on those.”
MacLean and the Eagle defense have compiled 18 shutouts in 20 games and given up only two goals compared to the 110 McGraw has scored. Senior forward Kierra Mack leads the team with 29 goals and 11 assists, while Nicole Law has 27 goals and 16 assists, sophomore forward Kaitelyn Leonard 19 goals and 18 assists and senior midfielder Casey Millard 10 goals and 12 assists.
Leonard, with five goals and two assists, and Millard, with four goals and four assists, have led the way in the four post-season games, while Mack has four goals and three assists.
“We have to be able to get by their stopper (Niver),” Harwood said, “and keep balls low to the ground so that their keeper has to sprawl out. We also have to concentrate on transition as a team. I think they’re beatable, and I’m sure they think that we are, too.”
Both coaches noted that their squads have played a number of games on turf this season and are accustomed to it.
“Our kids have spunk and drive, and say ‘We’re gonna beat these guys,’” Dave Law said. “We have something to prove — that we’re deserving of being number one in the state in Class D (two spots above Arkport). It was questionable because some of the teams we played weren’t that strong, but they’ve had some easy games, too. It’s the same thing, and we’ve both done well in the post-season.
“There are at least 100 Class D girls’ soccer teams in the state, and I told the girls that most of them would love to be in our shoes. The school is doing everything to make sure the girls can get out and be prepared; we’ve gotten whatever we need. The support has been great all year.”
To read this article and more, pick up today's Cortland Standard
Click here to subscribe