CORTLAND — Oneonta High’s girls took a physical pounding during Sunday’s Class B state soccer final and an emotional one following it.
The sight of senior goalie Emmalee Sloman on her knees with her forehead pressed against the artificial turf at Cortland State and her hands covering her head told the story. Sloman’s reaction came after the Yellowjackets’ 3-1 overtime loss to Greece Odyssey on a sunny but cool afternoon.
Of course, the opposite end of the field told a far different story as a jubilant bunch of Leopards celebrated the program’s first state championship.
Other Yellowjackets showed the sting of this loss. Senior Dani Nicosia just sat on the field and stared for what seemed like a minute. OHS coach Jerry Mackey appeared to want to say something to his squad following the awards ceremony but choked up.
“It was a great run,” said OHS sophomore Taryn More, whose first-half goal gave the Yellowjackets a lead they clung to for more than 30 minutes of the second half — until Rachael Walsh tied the score with 8:49 left in regulation. “It’s disappointing we had to lose in the final, but you can’t be sad about the end. We’re second place in the state. You can’t complain about a season like that.”
But OHS was so close to that first state championship in girls soccer. The same title the Jackets chased for much of Helen Sandford’s 30-year tenure on the sidelines once again eluded them. Sandford won 440 games — a state record at the time of her retirement after the 2003 season — and led OHS to 15 Section Four championships. The closest her program came to a state title, though, were losses in the 2000 and 2003 finals.
Mackey, her former assistant, took over the next season. OHS again advanced to the final but fell, 2-0, to Rockville Centre South Side.
The Yellowjackets wouldn’t return to the state playoffs until last season, when a 19-2 campaign ended with a 1-0 loss to defending state champion Bronxville in a state quarterfinal.
OHS returned nine starters from that team.
“Since my freshman season, we’ve gotten better every year,” said senior sweeper Shelby Cleaveland, who played perhaps her best game in an OHS uniform Sunday. “Mr. Mackey is the man. I’ll never forget him. This team is the best we’ve ever had. We played the last day of the soccer season and that’s exactly what we wanted to do.”
It was Cleaveland who helped the Jackets advance to the final, assisting on Nicosia’s goal in Saturday’s 1-0 semifinal victory over Section Eight’s Cold Spring Harbor at Tompkins Cortland Community College. Section Five’s Greece Odyssey had an even bigger win Saturday, knocking off defending state champion and unbeaten Schalmont, 3-2, in the other semifinal. The Leopards lost, 4-0, to Schalmont in last season’s state final.
“This is our third straight year (in the state final four) and to finally win a championship is incredible,” said junior midfielder Jessica Marlowe, who assisted Liz Dohr’s go-ahead goal in the first overtime and scored the final one in the second OT.
One thing was clear from the outset Sunday: The officials would play almost no role in this one. It was decided by the players and it was physical. More sported a shiner under her left eye and the Leopards’ Karissa Krautwurst walked with a noticeable limp following the game.
This was not for the timid. Bodies crashed to the turf and, more often than not, OHS took the brunt of those hits.
“They were big and strong and talented and physical,” Mackey said of the 18-3-1 Leopards. “It was a great matchup for us and we felt we had some opportunities early.”
Oneonta (18-3-1) had the better of play in the first half. The Yellowjackets opened the scoring with 10:53 left in the first half.
It started on a free kick after Greece Odyssey’s Katie Wilbur fouled More in the left corner. Nicosia took the kick and sent a low bouncer toward the near post. Nicole Harmer got a foot on the ball in traffic and sent it toward the goal.
Here’s how More described the rest: “Oh, my gosh. The goalie (Vanessa Dornelius) was on the ground, Madison Miller rebounded it off who knows? — a defender? the goalie? — then I was able to score on it.”
Dornelius nearly secured the rebound, but it squirted to her left and an unmarked More tapped it into an open net for her 18th goal of the season. Miller and Harmer were credited with assists on the play.
By half’s end, OHS held a 6-4 advantage in shots, a 2-1 edge in corner kicks and both goalies made three saves. Neither side gave any indication it was about to dominate the second half.
But Greece Odyssey established early in the second half it was not happy with its one-goal deficit. Marlowe, named the Leopards’ outstanding player of the final, led the surge. She combined speed with foot skills and a powerful right leg. Before the second half was 5 1/2 minutes old, Marlowe had a header go wide, a hard shot from 18 yards that Sloman saved and a free kick from 35 yards go wide.
Two other wicked shot attempts never made it to the goal because Cleaveland deflected them.
“They kept pressuring, they kept attacking and they kept taking shots,” Cleaveland said. “I wore a few and we deflected a lot. They had a lot of chances, but we kept them out as best we could.”
Amid the Leopards’ domination, OHS had one excellent chance to extend its lead. An unmarked More had possession around the top of the 18-yard box on the right side but shot wide to the far post with 28:15 left.
Finally, GO’s pressure paid off. The Leopards also benefited from a friendly bounce on the play.
A high ball was served into the middle of the field, about 25 yards away. Oneonta’s Jen Jelic and Walsh jostled for position. Jelic stepped forward, but the ball just eluded her and went to Walsh, who had time to take a couple of touches. Walsh then struck a perfect liner into the upper-right corner to tie the score at 1.
“That was a great strike,” Mackey said of Walsh’s equalizer.
If the Yellowjackets watch a replay of the final, the goal they’ll likely be angry about giving up came with 2:22 left in the first overtime.
Even as the Leopards pressured in the second half, OHS maintained its shape defensively and made things tough on GO.
That was not the case on the go-ahead goal.
Marlowe gained possession in the left-middle of the field, about 40 yards out.
She blew by an OHS defender and penetrated deep, just outside the left side of the box. Cleaveland had to move toward Marlowe, leaving the middle of the box open. Marlowe then sent a crossing pass to the middle, and Dohr one-timed it inside the left post from 12 yards.
“Whenever there’s an open space, I like to dribble and create opportunities,” Marlowe said of her assist.
Added Mackey: “At that point, it was probably something that broke down earlier in the play.”
Marlowe ended any chance of an OHS comeback when she scored on a 35-yard blast to the far post with less than two minutes left in the second overtime.
Junior midfielder Mariah Ruff was named Oneonta’s outstanding player of the final and the semifinal, and Sloman (six saves) was named the outstanding goalie of the championship game.
“We enjoyed the journey, but it’s an engulfing pressure,” said Mackey, whose team beat Seton Catholic Central, 4-0, in overtime in the Section Four final, knocked out Bronxville in a penalty-kick shootout in the quarterfinal and outlasted Cold Spring Harbor, 1-0, on Saturday. “We always put internal pressure on ourselves to excel anyway, but these last 2 1/2 weeks have been on-the-edge-of-your-seat type stuff.”
Of the Jackets, Marlowe said: “I’d say they’re one of the most physical teams we’ve played. We’ve played against skilled teams, but they played with a lot of heart. It’s hard playing against those teams because they want to win as much as you do.”
An OHS squad that won back-to-back Southern Tier Athletic Conference and sectional titles will graduate starters Shelby and Cami Cleaveland, Amy Hait, Nicosia, Jelic and Sloman, along with reserves McKenna Rowe, Breanna Jump and Minnie Webster.
“It’s been an emotional ride,” Mackey said. “I’m certainly proud to be the coach of this team.”
Greece Odyssey 3,
CLASS B STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
at Cortland State
Number before team indicates section
Oneonta 1 0 0 0 — 1
Greece Odyssey 0 1 1 1 — 3
4-Oneonta (18-3-1): Taryn More 1-0, Madison Miller 0-1, Nicole Harmer 0-1.
5-Greece Odyssey (18-3-1): Rachael Walsh 1-0, Liz Dohr 1-0, Jessica Marlowe 1-1.
Shots-corner kicks: O 11-4; G 14-7.
Goalies: Emmalee Sloman (O) 6; Vanessa Dornelius (G) 6.
Outstanding goalie: Sloman (O).
Outstanding players: Mariah Ruff (O); Jessica Marlowe (G).
Rob Centorani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.