The Rye Girls’ Soccer team capped its storybook season on Sunday, Nov. 12, by winning the Class A state championship with a 2-0 victory over Suffolk County’s Shoreham-Wading River at Cortland High School.
Steamrolling elite competition throughout the playoffs, the Garnets won their first state title in 15 years, finishing their season at 22-2. The team defeated Section 6’s Lewiston-Porter 3-0 in the semifinal on Saturday, and Section 9’s Our Lady of Lourdes in the regional final, 4-1 a week earlier.
The Garnets won their final 18 games, 16 by shutout, after a 4-2 start.
“Everyone worked really hard and played a big role this season,” senior captain Isabel Harvey said after the title-winning match. “Our team chemistry off the field really helped us to win on the field. I couldn’t be happier for my team and Coach Savage. The emotion on each of our faces was priceless and will be remembered forever.”
After a tense and scoreless first half on Sunday, with the teams exchanging periods of possession and strong defending, Rye opened the scoring a minute into the second half when senior captain Maddy Walsh hammered home a header directly off of an expertly delivered corner kick from Lyla Keenan.
Facing a deficit, Shoreham-Wading River pressed forward, but they were denied at every turn by Rye’s stout defense. With just under 13 minutes remaining, freshman and tournament MVP Charlotte Keenan struck a perfectly placed shot off of a throw-in from Walsh that found the upper right corner of the net, just out of reach of SWR’s keeper, Morgan Lesiewicz.
Once the Garnets had secured a two-goal lead, the team turned its efforts to repelling SWR’s attacks, repeatedly driving balls away from danger until SWR had run out of time and chances. As the clock ticked to zero, the team rushed to gather around its goal. The celebration began on the field, rippled into the stands, and continued all the way to Rye High School. There, the state champions were greeted with a hero’s welcome, and were escorted by the Rye Fire Department and joined by family, friends, neighbors, and fans.
For the Garnets, their season to remember has been a long time coming.
Over the years, Rye High Head Coach Rich Savage has had great success, but some strong teams have stumbled at the finish line of Sectionals, losing on a late goal or in overtime.
Fifteen years ago, they were State and Section Class A champions. In other seasons, they blew through the opposition only to falter on the way to States. The 2020 squad took the Southern Large School Championship, and then the season was curtailed due to Covid. In 2021, they again shared the Sectional championship — this time with Clarkstown North — but didn’t advance when they lost on penalty kicks.
But the 2023 Garnets have turned those heartbreakers into nothing more than bad memories.
Boasting a rock-solid defense, Rye had entered the Class A playoffs with a 10-game winning streak, yielding only a single goal to some very strong teams, including Arlington, this year’s Class AAA champs. The team kept their defensive streak going right through Sectionals, opening with a 4-0 win over Walter Panas and following that up with a 3-0 whitewashing of John Jay-Cross River. In the semifinals, Rye defeated three-seeded Tappan Zee 2-0.
But all that semifinal win did was pit the second-ranked Garnets against defending State and Section champs Albertus Magnus, a team that hadn’t lost in the Section since 2019. The powerhouse team recruits players and regularly travels the country playing nationally ranked teams. Not only that, the Garnets had dropped a 1-0 encounter to the Falcons when they played each other at the end of September.
This time, when the two titans met on Sunday, Oct. 29, at Nyack High School, the Garnets applied pressure all over the field.
“We learned a lot from that regular-season loss,” said senior co-captain and center midfielder Maddy Walsh. “We knew we had to play our best game of the season, and we did.”
The teams fought to a scoreless first half, and things stayed that way for almost 15 minutes of the second stanza, when junior midfielder Lyla Keenan took a long shot that was blocked. But senior striker Isabel Harvey got to the ball first and put Rye ahead with her shot.
Though the Falcons fought hard to equalize, the Garnets withstood the pressure. Then Walsh picked off a pass in the middle of the pitch and made her way into the penalty box, where she laid the ball off to senior Paige Vanneck for the insurance goal.
Albertus Magnus coach Dan Samimi said afterward, “They looked like they really wanted it. Every pass we made went to the other team.”
The victory sent the new titleholders on a three-and-a-half-hour bus ride on Nov. 1, through a snowstorm to Chenango Forks High School outside Binghamton to play Section IV champs Owego Free Academy. It was still snowing on a cold, blustery afternoon when the teams took the field, and Rye immediately took command.
“Rye controlled the pace of the game and moved the ball around the field in icy and very difficult conditions,” Coach Savage said after.
Senior outside back Sage Ruttenberg opened the scoring off a corner kick from junior Bowyn Brown, banging the ball off the post and into the net. Brown set up the second goal as well, sending her corner kick to the foot of Charlotte Keenan, who hit a first-time shot past the keeper. In the second half, Keenan would get the assist on a score by Harvey. Harvey would score her second and the team’s fourth and final goal with Walsh and sophomore Parker Calhoun assisting. Calhoun’s classmate, goalkeeper Tessa Labovitz, would earn the shutout with five saves.