The 2023 Rye High School Girls’ Soccer team, under Head Coach Rich Savage, first won the Section 1 championship, then won the Regional Semifinal and Final games, before storming through the State Final Four to bring home the Class A title. The victory came 15 years after Savage’s team last won the State crown.
The Rye Record’s longtime sports reporter, Mitch Silver, asked Coach Savage for his thoughts on the Garnets’ remarkable season.
“This team was extremely special, every player on it, as well as the parents. We were supported through the entire season, and we never let any obstacles get in the way of our success. We had to deal with hot weather, numerous cancellations due to rainstorms, and constant schedule changes. We were forced to play six games in eight days at the end of the season, against some of the best competition in the section.
“As the season progressed, we started to play with more confidence and move the ball around the field nicely. We knew that every player on the team was extremely talented and possessed a high soccer IQ.
“We concentrated on each match being just another game. I didn’t want the girls to be hyped up to the point they couldn’t play their best, especially as the competition got tougher.
“The week of practice leading up to States, we went over different strategies to deal with the team we’d be playing on Friday. The girls were relaxed, and the practices were focused. Certainly, we enjoyed the police escort out of town, and I had the desire to have that same escort coming back into town.
“In the semifinal on Friday, we executed our plan: attacking wide and keeping the ball on the ground. We knew they were playing a high defensive line and we had an extremely fast team. We worked on delayed runs, and Charlotte Keenan scored her first two goals due to that high off-sides line.
“More importantly, since we played so well, many players got on the field. This was extremely helpful, because we had to play Suffolk County’s Shoreham-Wading River for the title the next day. We stayed after our game ended to watch them play their first half. They had a tough match, so our goal was to attack the team and press them.
“We started off the final possessing the ball and moving it around the pitch. About halfway through the first half, the momentum changed quite a bit. Shoreham-Wading River played some long balls and put real pressure on us. However, our defense was flawless with Clare Nemsick, Sage Ruttenberg, Ally Koford, and Bowyn Brown doing an outstanding job of shutting down all scoring opportunities. Tessa Labowitz was solid in goal.
“At halftime, we talked about staying calm and playing our game. Luckily, we came out and scored within the first two minutes of the second half on a perfect corner kick from Lyla Keenan to Maddy Walsh. Charlotte Keenan would add an insurance goal with 13 minutes left in the game.
“Charlotte, who is a freshman, was named MVP of the Final Four, and the honor was well-deserved. A complete soccer player, she is fast, skilled, and makes things happen on the field. She also is humble and always has a smile on her face. She would be the first to say that the win was a team effort.”
Coach Savage added, “The support of the parents was another big contributor to our success. For every away game, depending on the weather they brought Gatorade and water or bought hot chocolate. They took care of all the important details, so the team only had to concentrate on playing soccer.
“The fact that everyone came out for our home games and many were in the stands at Cortland for the Final Four was a big boost. The homecoming, the welcome home after winning the State title, was unbelievable.
“Finally, our senior captains — Mali White, Sage Ruttenberg, Maddy Walsh, and Isabel Harvey. I was extraordinarily lucky to coach this foursome. They expected the best from everybody, always put forth their best, and brought the team together. They were role models, not only for our team but for Section 1 and all of New York State.
“One of the best compliments we received was after our win on Saturday night. I was leaving the field at about 8 and someone working at the gate said, ‘I just wanted you to know that your girls were not only the most talented team. They were also the best-mannered team, always saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ It was extremely nice to hear.”