By Rob Centorani
The Daily Star
---- — The schools are the same, but their roles are reversed.
For the second straight year, Oneonta High (17-2) and Bronxville (18-2-1) will meet in a Class B state girls soccer quarterfinal.
But things have changed for both teams.
Last season, the Section Four champion Yellowjackets played the role of upstarts, winning their first sectional title since 2004 and doing so with nine underclassmen in the starting lineup. Conversely, the Broncos entered last year’s game as the defending state champions with eight seniors starting.
“Last year was our first time there and we kind of felt, ‘Do we belong here? Do we not?’” Oneonta High junior midfielder Mariah Ruff said. “This year, if we can get off to a fast start, they’ll feel like they don’t belong here. But if we come out flat, they’ll gain confidence, so the first few minutes are important.”
When the teams meet at 5:30 p.m. today at Greene with a spot in the Class B state semifinals at stake, the Yellowjackets will be the more experienced squad.
Few thought OHS would give Bronxville much trouble in last season’s game. But on a windy day in Yorktown, the Broncos advanced with a hard-fought, 1-0 victory.
“They’re certainly very talented,” OHS coach Jerry Mackey said after watching Bronxville beat Albertus Magnus, 2-1, to win the Section One title Friday before beating Section Nine’s Spackenkill, 4-2, the next day in a Class B state first-round game. “They have very explosive kids on offense and a great goalie with great size.
“Last year’s team was so physically dominant,” he continued. “Last year, we hung around hoping to get one, but realistically, they looked like a college team. This year, their key players are sophomores and juniors, whereas last year they were seniors. So from a physical standpoint, that puts teams back in the game.”
Mackey added that if his team plays well, it will have a chance.
One matchup to look for today will be OHS defensive standout Madison Miller against Bronxville’s Lucy Knolhoff. Both are sophomores.
Knolhoff scored three goals in the Broncos’ win over Spackenkill on Saturday.
Miller has specialized in the playoffs shutting down the opposition’s top offensive threat. She did so against Vestal’s Rachel Terry in helping the Yellowjackets to a 2-0 win in the Southern Tier Athletic Conference final and against Seton Catholic Central’s Alyssa Ricci during Oneonta’s 4-0 overtime win the Section Four Class B final.
“She can flat out fly,” Mackey said of Kohlhoff. “There aren’t many players faster (than OHS sophomore Brieanna Baker), but she might be.”
Another factor could be restarts. Last season, Bronxville’s goal came on a restart 50 seconds before halftime.
“This year, we haven’t allowed too many restarts in any game and we haven’t given up many corner kicks, which is one of our strongest points,” Ruff said. “This year, our defense is prepared for Bronxville.”
Added Mackey: “They scored on a restart Saturday and had a couple of dangerous chances Friday. If you give a quality team free looks, it’s not a good recipe for success. We’ve done a good job of avoiding those fouls in our defensive third while still being aggressive.”
In last year’s game, Ruff played a pivotal role by winning more than her share of 50-50 balls. She said with Miller, Shelby Cleaveland and Dani Nicosia, the Yellowjackets have excelled this season at winning balls in the air.
In one respect, today’s game mirrors this year’s World Series. The Detroit Tigers waited close to a week before the series against the San Francisco Giants started. The Giants wound up sweeping the series.
OHS hasn’t played since beating Seton on Nov. 2 _ that game also at Greene.
Because of Hurricane Sandy, Section One had to push back its schedule. Bronxville has played four times since the Yellowjackets beat SCC to win their second straight Section Four title.
But Mackey said with Ruff breaking her nose in the win over the Saints, along with a couple of other players nursing minor injuries, it was a welcome break for his squad.
“We had a couple of stretches this season where we went 5-7 days between games,” he said. “I think we’re OK with the down time, but in an ideal world, we would have fewer days of down time.
“But the stuff (Bronxville) was dealing with is way more important than soccer,” he continued. “We understand and we have no problem waiting.”
Ruff will wear a mask today to protect her nose, which she injured in the second half against SCC.
“I’m starting to get used to it,” she said.
Offensively, OHS has spread the wealth this season. Senior Cami Cleaveland leads the way with 19 goals and seven assists. Classmate Dani Nicosia has 13 goals and 13 assists, and sophomore Taryn More has contributed 16 goals and five assists.
Freshman Abby Picinich follows with 13 goals and eight assists, Baker has nine goals and 11 assists, and Ruff has six goals and 11 assists.
The winner of today’s game will play Section Eight’s Cold Spring Harbor or Section 11’s Babylon in a state semifinal at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Tompkins Cortland Community College. Cold Spring Harbor and Babylon play at 2:30 p.m. today at Dowling College.
“Last year, I felt if we played (Bronxville) 10 times, they were going to win more than five,” Mackey said. “This year, I don’t feel that’s the case.”
The other semifinal is already set, with defending state champion Schalmont facing Greece Odyssey at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Cortland High School. That game is a rematch of last year’s state final that Schalmont won, 4-0. Schalmont also beat Bronxville, 4-0, in a state semifinal last season.
The state championship is scheduled for 10 a.m. Sunday at Cortland State.