Only 20 girls soccer teams in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association are still playing, and Unatego is one of them.
These are not just any old games either. The Spartans will be competing in the state semifinal for the first time in school history Saturday, Nov. 16, at 10 a.m. at Cortland High School.
Unatego will face Section I’s Haldane for a morning matchup to decide one half of the state final, the Spartans are aware of the weekend’s magnitude.
“I don’t want them getting stressed, I want them to enjoy the moment,” coach Sue Herodes said. “I can say I’m really proud of these girls because they’ve stayed grounded throughout the whole process.
“When they have a mission to accomplish they get to it.”
Unatego (18-0-1) has completed seemingly every task thrown its way so far, with its latest being a 2-0 shutout win over Section III Little Falls in the Class C regional finals last Saturday, Nov. 9.
Mental toughness has been a strength of the Spartans all year long. With the ultimate prize in reach, the same mindset will be required to finish what they started.
“This group of kids, when it comes to them being focused, they’re very good,” Herodes said. “Luckily when we do get flustered we’ve been able to get back on track.”
As a team, the Spartans are well balanced. While Dana Stepp scores more than a few goals (31 to be exact), she is not the only offensive option for Unatego. Paige McCoy (12 goals), Morgan Perry (10), Kylie Mussaw (six), Hali Lucia (three) and Tatum Codington (five) are all threats.
Defensively, the Spartans have rarely allowed high-end chances because of the strong play from Kaitlyn Fortin, Alexa Lucia, Hannah Brandow and Leah Hamm. Anabel Rommer, Jenna Faulkner and Katie Ostrander each can facilitate the ball through the middle of the field.
Include in the fact that goalie Meghan Perry has played very well the last two weeks, the Spartans are as complete of a team as you’ll find. This season they have outscored opponentsby 71 goals, 83-12.
“We don’t center things around any specific person,” Herodes said. “It’s what we create as a team. If you revolve your entire philosophy around one person you’re really limiting yourself.
“They work together very well,” Herodes continued. “They do work for each other and not for themselves. That’s going to give you success.”
Haldane will likely be riding the high after beating S.S. Seward in penalty kicks, 4-3, in its regional game.
The Blue Devils have only allowed one goal in their last four games. That was in a 3-1 win against The Leffell School in the Section I championship earlier in the month, and the win gave them their ninth straight section championship.
Haldane has five losses and three draws to its record, but it has mostly played Class B schools. The Blue Devils also beat Beacon, a Class A school, in September.
Jade Villella appears to be Haldane’s top offensive threat, while Abigail Platt and Shianne Twoguns have split time in goal all season.
Herodes said she’s only seen Haldane’s game against Seward, so she is not too familiar with the Blue Devils, but she also said “the kids are ultimately going to adjust on the field.”
The other side of the bracket features Section II’s Stillwater and Section V’s Marion, but all of the Spartan’s energy right now is on Haldane.
Because that’s the mission at hand.