By Rob Centorani Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — To peruse the offensive numbers produced by Mariah Ruff and Madison Miller during the 2012 girls soccer season, one might think their contributions to one of the best seasons in Oneonta High history were paltry.
In this case, the numbers are big, fat liars.
Ruff’s athleticism and vision in the midfield combined with Miller’s ability to make the opponent’s best offensive player appear to be a late-season JV call-up provided the substance to an 18-3-1 season that was merely minutes away from the program’s first state championship.
Oh, there was plenty of that provided by offensive standouts such as Cami Cleaveland, Dani Nicosia and Taryn More — all Daily Star First Team All-Star selections.
But Ruff and Miller, The Daily Star’s co-Players of the Year for girls soccer, proved that goal prevention and possession hold the same importance as scoring goals.
Ruff finished with six goals and 12 assists — solid but not the stats Daily Star Player of the Year recipients normally compile. As for Miller, she finished the season with four goals and two assists. Again, nothing Earth shattering.
Yet, to watch a Yellowjackets game this past fall, one couldn’t help but notice their various contributions to Oneonta’s success.
“Madison matched up with high-level forwards and held them to a stalemate,” said OHS coach Jerry Mackey, The Daily Star’s Coach of the Year for the second straight season and third time overall. “She took away the other team’s best option. Mariah, who was usually playing defensive midfielder, was always winning 50-50 balls.”
Still, there’s one aspect to Ruff — heading into her senior season — and Miller — who’ll start her junior year in September — that goes beyond anything they accomplished on the field, and that’s their ability to deflect credit.
Ask Miller the secret behind shutting down high-scoring forwards and you’ll immediately hear about fellow defenders Shelby Cleaveland, Amy Hait and Jennifer Jelic, and goalie Emmalee Sloman supporting her in the back.
Talk to Ruff about initiating offense from the midfield or her long throw-ins that led to numerous scoring chances, and she’ll bring up the speed of Brieanna Baker or the skill of Cami Cleaveland, More and Nicosia, and how those players made it easy for her.
“It’s a team sport, so I’m more concerned with how the team is doing,” Miller said. “I’m glad the team gets recognized. It’s not about personal achievement.”
Added Ruff: “I’m not that much of a soccer player. I felt like we ran the field well and I had tons of time (to read the defense). I had just had to find the open person.”
When Ruff says she’s not much of a soccer player, it’s only in relation to her abilities on a basketball floor. She recently made a verbal commitment to attend Division I St. Bonaventure on a basketball scholarship.
Many of the skills she uses as a top-flight point guard during the winter are also on display during the fall.
“She has that calmness,” Mackey said of Ruff. “She has trust in her ability and trust in her teammates. She plays aggressively and calmly, and that’s a tough line to walk.”
Ruff earned First Team all-state honors in Class B in soccer and basketball this past academic year, something Mackey said he couldn’t recall another OHS player doing.
“It’s hard enough to do it in one sport,” Mackey said. “The thing is, she’s clearly a First Team pick in both sports and it’s a no-brainer — no doubt about it. That level of dominance is rare. It’s a testament to her athletic ability, skill level, desire and time management. That’s a lot of prep time. There are 80 minutes in a soccer game and 32 minutes in basketball. To see that kind of commitment is great for younger kids and it’s still being done within the team concept.”
Ruff’s level of commitment reached its apex in Oneonta’s 4-0 overtime victory over Seton Catholic Central as OHS won its second straight Section Four Class B title. She suffered a broken nose in the second half, but after brief break on the sidelines to get the blood stopped, she returned. Ruff played the remainder of the season with a protective mask covering her face.
Perhaps Ruff received her cue to ignore physical problems from Miller, a Second Team all-state performer. During a 2-1 overtime defeat of Elmira in a Southern Tier Athletic Conference semifinal, Ruff said Miller became ill.
“One of the funniest moments came when we were playing Elmira,” Ruff said. “Madison threw up on her jersey. She said to me, ‘What should I do?’ I was just like, ‘Keep playing.’ She showed she has heart and we won the game.”
The list of players Miller stymied during Oneonta’s postseason run was long and distinguished.
It started with Vestal’s Rachel Terry during the STAC final, a 2-0 Oneonta victory that marked the Yellowjackets’ second straight conference title. Terry earned Second Team all-state honors in Class A.
In a Section Four Class B semifinal, she drew the assignment to cover Waverly’s Liia Carpenter, who scored 32 goals.
Next was Seton Catholic Central’s Alyssa Ricci, who’ll play soccer this fall at Division II Le Moyne College.
In a shootout victory over Bronxville in a Class B state quarterfinal, Miller drew the speedy Lucy Kohlhoff.
In the state semifinals against Cold Spring Harbor, Miller covered First Team all-state selection Teressa Fazio and helped Oneonta to a 1-0 victory.
Finally, in a 3-1 overtime loss to Greece Odyssey in the state final, Miller guarded Class B Player of the Year Emily Tucker.
Those girls combined for zero goals and zero assists against Miller.
“It was a good challenge,” Miller said of the postseason. “It helped me get better, too. They were different types of good players. Plus, I had Shelby, Jen and Amy helping me out with them, too.”
At close to 6 feet, Miller specialized at winning balls in the air.
She also struck a seemingly perfect balance between being aggressive and playing positional defense. She had enough speed to stay with fleet-footed standouts, and enough size and strength to stop bigger forwards.
“She’s technically sound, strong enough to win 50-50 balls and hold her position, and she was always on balance,” Mackey said. “That’s one of the reasons she won so many balls in the air. She could play physical without fouling and was quick enough contain to faster players. She doesn’t go outside her comfort level and she’s always in the right spot.”
Under Mackey’s leadership in the postseason, the Yellowjackets won one game in overtime, another in a penalty-kick shootout, another, 1-0, and held a one-goal lead late in the state final before falling to Greece Odyssey.
He stressed conditioning, as evidenced by the line sprints OHS ran following games.
“He’s a great motivator,” Miller said of Mackey. “He really pushes you to be your best and he genuinely cares about all of us.”
Added Ruff: “Mackey is really hard on us. We ran like 15 miles a day. Some days, we wouldn’t even practice. It was just running, but everybody wanted to be there. That helped us make states and helped us make history.”
Rob Centorani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.