NORWICH – Once is good, twice is nice.
For the second year in a row, No. 1 Unatego earned the Section IV Class C girls title with its 1-0 win over No. 2 Elmira Notre Dame on Saturday, Nov. 2, in Norwich.
The Spartans' Dana Stepp scored the game’s only goal early in the first half and Unatego remained focused for the entire 80-minute affair to claim the championship over the Crusaders.
“It feels great,” Stepp said after the game. “We’ve worked really hard, we haven’t lost many, we practice every day, we don’t take breaks off, we just work hard.”
“I can’t even put it into words how proud I am of these girls,” Unatego coach Sue Herodes said. “They knew what we were coming into against Elmira Notre Dame and we did not waver. We stayed in it the whole game and we definitely learned from our last game that you can’t stop playing.”
On Oct. 29, Unatego squeaked out a 6-5 win in the section semifinal against Lansing, despite allowing five consecutive goals in the second half.
Against Elmira Notre Dame, the Spartans stayed locked in throughout as they clearly learned from their near collapse earlier in the week.
“It definitely helped us that we scored early,” Herodes added. “To get that early goal definitely got us to realize that 'hey, first of all we belong here and second of all, we can do this because to hang on that long with a team this strong and not let them in the net is significant.'”
In the 26th minute of the opening half, Stepp scored on a turnaround screamer from about 30 yards out after Alexa Lucia sent a bouncing ball upfield. Crusaders goalie Ana Milazzo (seven saves) had little chance to stop the ball as it soared into the net with velocity and movement.
“I mean Dana’s shot, what, that was amazing, that’s probably a once-in-15-times shot for her to make and it was just beautiful,” Herodes said. “She just turned and shot it and there it went.”
Bodies were flying around the field Saturday as neither side wanted to surrender an inch. Unatego seemed to benefit from the physical play while Elmira Notre Dame seemed frustrated by it.
“We were ready for the physicality and we didn’t let it get to us and we didn’t let their talking get to us either,” Stepp said. “That was a huge difference in this game from the Lansing game when they came back.”
Unatego goalie Meghan Perry (15 saves) had perhaps the most impressive bounce-back performance as she looked composed all game and cleaned up everything the Crusaders threw at her.
The five goals Perry allowed against Lansing was a season-high.
“Well I was a little nervous but when they start coming at me you don’t really feel the nerves, it’s kind of just instinct now,” Perry said. “You just give it all you got and save it for your team.”
Perry’s best save came in the second half on an Elmire Notre Dame shot that looked like it was labeled for the back of the net, but instead Perry calmly jumped up and deflected the ball out of harms way.
“She’s just a very solid player in the back and the kids have a lot of confidence in her and a lot of trust,” Herodes said. “She definitely had a presence today that was giving the girls confidence.”
The Crusaders held the advantage in shots (15-9) and corners (5-2) but a solid game from the Spartans’ defense contributed to the banner win.
“I’m very proud, every single player whether you’re a starter or not, every single one of these girls has pushed each other and that’s what it’s all about,” Herodes said.
“Totally worth the many days of practicing in the rain and the field being under water,” Perry added. “Everything is worth it.”
Unatego now moves on to a regional final where it will go head to head with Little Falls, the team that ended the Spartans’ season a year ago. The game is scheduled for 12 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9, in Norwich.
“We’re ready for Little Falls. They knocked us out last year and we’re ready to play them this year and knock them out,” Stepp said.
Unatego 1, Elmira Notre Dame 0
Elmira Notre Dame…. 0 0 – 0
Unatego…. 1 0 – 1
Elmira Notre Dame: None.
Unatego: Dana Stepp 1-0, Alexa Lucia 0-1.
Shots-corners: END 15-5; U 9-2.
Goalies: Ana Milazzo (END) 7; Meghan Perry (U) 15.