Unatego girls soccer coach Sue Herodes cut a calm figure Tuesday, Oct. 29, as her team conceded almost as many goals to Lansing in 15 minutes as it did in all of its preceding games.
The Spartans nearly threw away a 6-0 lead in the second half as Lansing brought the score back to 6-5 with more than 10 minutes remaining before Unatego held on to reach its second straight Section IV Class C final.
“A lot of the conversation with the girls after the game was, ‘what you just experienced is life. We have to learn how to cope with things and how we cope with things gives us opportunity to be successful,’” Herodes said. “I wanted them to know there’s a bigger picture.”
Presenting the near meltdown as a learning moment is appropriate for a team with larger goals in the postseason. The Spartans have a chance to defend their section title at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, by taking on second seed Elmira Notre Dame at Norwich, but their goals have been even bigger than that since losing in the regional final last year.
“We definitely have been good about playing each game as individual,” Herodes said. “They’ve been excited to have the potential to get back to this game and we’ve gone one game at a time. You certainly can’t look past anybody in sectionals because there are good teams in Section IV.”
Notre Dame dropped out of the 2018 section bracket in the quarterfinals, but Herodes said there is a lot of history between the programs, most notably a meeting in the 2012 section final. Unatego won that one, 1-0.
“We know each other pretty well. We have been competing against each other for a long time and we both know it’s not going to be an easy game,” Herodes said. “They’re young and they’re solid players, plus they are organized. I went and watched the game last night (Oct. 30) and we joke about the state rankings, but you look at the situations and I believe they should have also been up in the rankings.”
Still, Unatego will enter as the favorite. The Spartans field a roster dominated by juniors and underclassmen, and have been touted for the past two seasons as a “young” team, but the past two seasons have made experience a nonissue for Unatego.
Most of this season’s contributors were also along for last year’s run, and despite a 17-0-1 record, the 2019 campaign has posed challenges. A tie with perennial power Schoharie and a win over Section III power Little Falls, which ended the Spartans season in 2018, highlighted a tough nonconference slate.
“We only have a few seniors ourselves so we still have some kids coming back but teams that we say are young, in reality, the kids that are playing have been playing for a while,” Herodes said. “With us, we’ve gotten some experience with being down in games and not giving up and coming back. Keeping the panic out of play, with more veteran teams that tends to be something you expect from the team more.”
The top-seeded Spartans have amassed a goal difference of +68, outscoring opponents, 80-12. So while Saturday’s final will be played on artificial turf, which suits Notre Dame as its home field is the same surface, Herodes said she expects the same attitude that let her side weather Tuesday’s test will continue to pay off.
“Obviously we want to go as far as we can. But it’s also about enjoying the process. When pressure gets put on kids, it can be very detrimental to teams. So we just play one game at a time and if we are fortunate enough to enter regionals again, that’s awesome.”