For the second season in a row, the Suburban Council is saving its best girls’ soccer games for last.
Just like a year ago when the foursome of Niskayuna, Saratoga Springs, Shaker and Shenendehowa entered the stretch run of the regular season atop the league’s standings and without having played one another, the situation is the same as the 2016 campaign nears its postseason. Starting Thursday, Niskayuna (11-0-0, 11-0-2), Saratoga Springs (7-1-2, 8-1-2), Shaker (11-0-0, 13-0-0) and Shenendehowa (9-1-1, 10-2-1) will take turns playing one another as part of a frantic conclusion to the league’s regular season before the Oct. 17 seeding meeting.
After her team’s loss this past weekend to Massapequa, the state’s top-ranked Class AA team, Shenendehowa coach Holli Nirsberger said she quickly turned her team’s attention to what’s ahead.
“The conversation we had coming out of that game was about how do we allow that loss to build us up to go play a Shaker, a Niskayuna, a Saratoga,” she said. “Those are must-win games. We need to have them because we can’t afford another loss. We can’t afford another tie, really.”
Each of the Suburban Council’s top-four teams are either ranked or an honorable mention in the state’s Class AA poll, with Shaker checking in the highest this week at No. 5. Every other team in the Suburban Council has at least three losses, so the head-to-head matchups coming up between the league’s top teams will dictate how the top four seeds are distributed for the Class AA playoffs.
Of course, Niskayuna head coach Bryce Colby was quick to point out that several other teams that will be in that field — notably: Bethlehem, Colonie, Columbia and Guilderland — have shown the ability this season to knock off one of the league’s top teams.
“There’s [several] teams not in this grouping that could knock off any one of us if we have the wrong game on the wrong day in the playoffs,” said Colby, whose squad topped Shenendehowa in last year’s Class AA area championship game.
When this end-of-season situation presented itself a season ago, each squad won at least one game except for Shaker which went 0-2-1. A younger squad a year ago and a senior-laden one this year, Nirsberger said it’s doubtful Shaker ends up stumbling down the stretch this time.
“Their kids were kids to watch last year and they are impact kids this year,” said Nirsberger, whose Plainsmen play host Thursday to Shaker while Saratoga Springs travels to Niskayuna. “They’re finishing more, they’re connecting more, they’re more organized on defense.”
Meanwhile, Niskayuna is likely the most changed from a year ago. After graduating several key pieces from last year’s squad, the Silver Warriors have rebuilt their potent offense around junior Izzy Lynch, while freshman Olivia Piraino has emerged in her first varsity season with 13 goals and nine assists.
“Everyone knows who Izzy is this year,” Colby said of Lynch, who scored two goals in last year’s sectional title game, and has registered 10 goals and nine assists this season. “She’s occupying a lot of attention for us in the middle of the field — and the more attention she takes, the more space there is for everyone else.”
But there will be little room for error in the next week-plus for the league’s top teams. A pair of last year’s games between the top teams ended in ties while another went to overtime. Only one of the games — a 9-4 win for Niskayuna against Saratoga Springs — wasn’t tense in the final minutes. Mental toughness, Nirsberger said, will be the most important trait for the teams as they deal with what’s ahead.
“We need to be ready for these challenges,” Nirsberger said.
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Categories: High School Sports, Sports