When Oneonta goes looking for its fourth consecutive Section IV Class B boys soccer championship Saturday, Nov. 2, the question will not be one of talent.
The Yellowjackets have lost four games in the last two seasons combined and outscored opponents, 90-4, through a 15-2 start to this season.
Instead, the question is one of composure. Last year’s regional final saw then-sophomore captain Matt Shultz receive a red card for dissent to an official. Chenango Valley, the Yellowjackets’ opponent in Saturday’s final, has historically tried to raise the temperature of its games against OHS. Wednesday’s semifinal saw Dryden increase its physicality late in the game, and Oneonta can expect its cool to be tested more as the stakes grow Saturday, and potentially, beyond.
“We’ve talked about it a lot with what happened (last year). And I thought it was kind of unfortunate. I’m like ‘hey. They’re kids. They make mistakes,’” Oneonta coach Alex Brannan said. “But I’ve been talking about it since that Westhill game. We have to look at ourselves and ask what we could have done differently. Like I do as a coach, I ask them to do that.”
Oneonta entered the section bracket as the top-seeded team after falling to Class AA Ithaca, 1-0, in the Southern Tier Athletic Conference final. The Yellowjackets’ other loss? A 2-1 decision at Chenango Valley on Sept. 27.
Still, Brannan is spinning that result as a positive ahead of Saturday’s rubber match. OHS defeated CV, 5-0, at home Sept. 6.
“Probably the best thing that could have happened is for us to get beat by this team,” Brannan said. “Now we can’t take this one lightly. Sure, there were some circumstances against us, but now we have to go out with the title on the line. You are not the section champions, you need to win the section to be section champs.”
Brannan also said that loss kicked his team into high gear for a late-season surge. The Yellowjackets scored 13 goals in their first two section games, an 8-0 win against Whitney Point and a 5-0 win over Dryden.
Despite the increased competition, spurts in each of those games have seen the Yellowjackets produce some of their best attacking play of the season.
“When we played CV last time, we went into the game with two injuries, we acquired four more in that game, then we had to go right back into it so some of my subs got to start,” Brannan said. “It showed my guys that we had some guys on the bench that could really play. When teams start to do that, the starters that are out get to see what’s going on. They grow a healthy respect for the other guys.”
With a mostly clean injury report, the Yellowjackets are set for a sixth final in eight years. Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. at Wright National Soccer Campus.