By Melanie Cane
The Wildcats shut out the Hackley Hornets, 5-0, November 3 to bring home their third consecutive NYAISA championship title. Despite the seeming inevitability of the victory — Rye Country Day was the No. 1 seed, Hackley No. 3, — the win was far from a given. The Wildcats had a tough time when they played the Hornets last month, eking out a 4-3 win in overtime.
Coach Georgette Summers said, “Hackley is considerably faster than us, and they came out strong in the earlier matchup. We took 27 corners in that game and did not capitalize on one.”
Another cause for concern going into the championship game was the intense pressure the juniors were under to “Defend the Tradition.” The team is comprised of one senior, Allie Conn, who was injured, 11 juniors, seven sophomores, and two freshmen.
Junior Captain and lead scorer Emily Duarte did not think pressure was a factor. “Given the team’s experience in winning the prior two championships, we knew what we had to do. We knew that if we played a strong, solid game we could win.”
Having spent the time since the first contest against the Hornets working on corner execution and adapting to changes in their line-up, the team more than rose to the challenge. The fruit of their labors was evident from their first possession until the final whistle.
In the first half, the Wildcats scored three goals and had eight shots on goal. Yana Lee scored the first goal with 18:48 unassisted. Duarte caged two, the first at 13:42 and the second at 1:33. The Hornets did not have any shots on goal.
In the second half, Duarte continued where she left off, scoring seven minutes into the half. Charlotte Cooper, one of the most versatile players on the team (she plays both defense and offense), scored the fifth goal on a perfectly executed penalty stroke at 21:50. Keeper Emma Santucci had five saves. Duarte made scoring look easy, but she said that was not the case. “Hackley’s defense was very skilled, but we were able to move the ball well and set each other up to score. Our passing was the key, as it split Hackley’s defense, giving us our opportunities.”
Coach Summers had high praise for the entire team. She gave special credit to junior captains Duarte and Zoe Verni and their classmate Lee for outstanding play in the tough OT win against Nichols in the semifinals. Summers praised junior Sophie Beshar, who returned after being sidelined with an injury for two weeks, “for providing a palpable sense of grounding within the defense unit.” She was also very pleased with her goalies, Santucci, a junior, and Melanie Mandell, a sophomore.
Duarte summed up what the whole team was feeling. “Winning once is great, winning twice is even better, but winning three times is unbelievable. Three championships in three years for our junior class is truly special.”
Before the championship game, Coach Summers read the team an inspiring quote: “Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months, and years they spend preparing for it.”
With the entire team returning next season, can you say “Four-peat?!”