Meredith Tutun turns after scoring the game winner.
Rye High Girls’ Soccer
Garnets Reach Class A Semis
By Mitch Silver
The beauty of earning the number one playoff seed in any sport is that, in the quarterfinals, you play the lowest-ranked team. When every higher-ranked team beats every lower-ranked team in the opening round, number one gets to play number eight at home. This year, that meant Rye High would play Nanuet on home turf in a Class A battle. A cinch, right?
Hardly. The Golden Knights came into Nugent Stadium the afternoon of October 28 having lost just once in the last four weeks, and that was to 13-1 Pearl River, the tournament’s second seed. And they beat the third seed, Albertus Magnus, in the final game of the regular season.
Of course, Head Coach Rich Savage’s crew was on a roll as well. Since losing to large-school Mahopac 2-1 five weeks earlier, his Garnets had scored 38 goals while giving up just six in rolling to an undefeated League campaign.
But all that went out the window with the opening whistle. With Nanuet senior defender Tara Slinn able to hit the ball a country mile and classmate Abby Knobel using her wide body to receive and hold the pelota in midfield before distributing it to her forwards, the Knights were able to go from back to front in a hurry.
Of course, quick ball movement is also a Garnet specialty. And it was on display in the first 12 minutes of the game when, time and again, seniors Mia McGinty, Grace Wyckoff, and Katie Sack — among others — would make penetrating passes through the midfield to their wingers. Senior Claudia Rafa and junior Meredith Tutun then used their speed to beat defenders to the end line before whipping the ball into the box. It finally paid off when, on a feed from junior Zoe Rockas, sophomore striker Annabelle Thomas found herself with the ball at her feet and the goalkeeper at her mercy. 1-0 Garnets.
Thomas almost scored again 25 minutes later when, after another quick buildup, her low drive hit the post to the keeper’s right and bounced away with 2:39 in the half.
Much of the halftime talk came, not from Coach Savage or his Assistant Coach Kim Nardo, but from All-Section goalkeeper Olivia Dabinett, urging her defenders to keep the team’s shape against Slinn, Knobel, and senior striker Jessica Antonelli.
The Garnets began the second half much as they had the first, looking dangerous off both wings. Tutun began to play joyfully against her defender, using her foot speed to receive the ball behind the Knights’ fullback. But when she scored 15 minutes into the second, it was from right in front. Rye had had a long spell of possession with nothing to show for it when Rockas fed her at the top of the box. The central defenders parted like the Red Sea and Tutun slotted the ball into the corner to the keeper’s left.
That 2-0 lead lasted all of seven minutes. When Abby Knobel took a ball from the back on her chest and played it past a couple of Rye defenders, Antonelli raced in and put her team’s first shot all afternoon past Dabinett. Rye 2-Nanuet 1.
Given new life, the visitors made a game of it, with Head Coach David Powers urging them to hold a high line. Meanwhile, Coach Savage moved his fastest player, Tutun, back to defend Knobel whenever she had the ball. Even when Rye was on attack in those last crucial moments, her coach could be heard yelling, “Don’t lose focus, Meredith.” She didn’t.
The final 20 seconds, though, were racking down to the last nerve. Nanuet had the ball on Rye’s side of midfield when the referee called a foul on Rye. It took the Knights another few seconds to get organized for the free kick, and then Tara Slinn crushed the ball high and far toward Dabinett in goal. Would it fly over her head and drop in the net behind her? It sure looked that way, with the clock registering zero, before it was clear the ball had cleared the crossbar and bounced off the football goalpost into the back of the netting. Whew!
It turned out that all four top seeds won their Class A playoff games, so Rye will host fourth-ranked Somers on Halloween. The game should be a treat.