The girls on Saratoga Central Catholic’s varsity soccer team used to joke among themselves about making the state tournament.
“We were just having fun, kidding around,” Saints freshman midfielder Lauren Maher said. “Now it’s not as much of a joke.”
The Class D Saints are still a long shot to get beyond Section II, but not nearly as far away as they were in 2014 when, as a first-year varsity team, getting the ball past midfield was considered a big accomplishment.
“Every year they’ve gotten better mentally and physically,” said Saratoga Catholic assistant coach Pat Maher, whose daughter, Kristen, leads the team with 36 goals. “Two years prior, some of them didn’t know what a ball was. Didn’t know the rules.”
Saints head coach Dan Cogan said his first team had seven girls who had never played soccer before.
“Some of the girls who were new are now solid contributors,” Cogan said. “You see them doing smart things on the field. Kids like Emily Rosato and Hannah Schneider, they’ve become savvy players.”
As a member of the Western Athletic Conference, Saratoga Catholic won one game in 2014, then won three and tied three last season. As an independent this year, they’ve forged an
11-5-0 record, with wins against Foothills Council opponents Hudson Falls and Glens Falls. They won Thursday 3-2 over Whitehall.
Two of the Saints’ losses have come by one goal, including an overtime affair with Cairo-Durham.
“Now we know what we’re doing,” said senior forward Mari Shaw, who was among the Saints who had never played soccer when she joined the team in 2014. “It’s not just Kristen, who had played before. We’re more dependent on the whole team.”
The team’s signature win came against Hudson Falls — a Class A team — in the second week of September when the Saints rallied from a 3-0 deficit to prevail 5-3.
“Since we did well against the bigger teams, that helped the girls’ confidence,” Cogan said.
Shaw scored late in the first half to provide a spark in the Hudson Falls game before Kristen Maher produced three goals and Meagan Schmid supplied another in the second half.
“Being down 3-0 and coming back, you could really see the difference from last year,” Lauren Maher said.
The Saints followed up their comeback win with an 11-1 victory over Class B Glens Falls.
“It takes just one thing to get the team going,” Shaw said. “Once we score it helps everyone get more focused.”
The Saints are among Section II’s top goal-scoring teams with 73. Schmid has 18 of them and Lauren Maher has 10, and nine of the 14 field players have at least one. Even first-year senior Lauren Chilli has gotten into the act.
“We’re really working together as a team,” Lauren Maher said. “Everyone has figured it out. We’re connecting as a team.”
Kristen Maher leads Section II in goals, has had games with six, five, and four twice. She credited her teammates for creating ample scoring opportunities.
“The first year it was tough,” the elder Maher, who serves as a co-captain with senior defender Liz DeDell, said. “I had five goals because it was hard to get the ball out of our end. A lot of it this year is because of the way we’ve been able to build up from the back and get the ball in our end.”
The Saints have generated five goals or more eight different times and have been blanked only twice, in their 1-0 loss to Cairo-Durham and in their season debut when Middleburgh dealt them a 3-0 setback. Several Saints didn’t have enough practices to be eligible for that late-August opener, and, like in their 2014 debut, they battled with only 10 players.
“They played as hard in the last 10 minutes as they did in the first 10 minutes,” Cogan said of the Middleburgh game. “That’s the kind of kids we have. They keep fighting. They keep playing.”
Saratoga Catholic athletic director and dean of students Phonsey Lambert said player numbers factored into his decision to have the soccer team compete as an independent rather than in the Wasaren League, which the school joined this school year.
“Coming into the season, I was concerned with our numbers,” said Lambert, who had the idea to bring girls’ soccer to Saratoga Catholic. “I didn’t want to have to tell any of their [Wasaren League] teams that we didn’t have enough kids and couldn’t play.
“We just had a league meeting and my recommendation was that we continue to play as an independent. We’ve got 15 girls and seven or eight of them will be graduating, so we’ll be scrambling next year.”
One of this year’s objectives is go further in the sectionals than last year, when the Saints beat Mekeel Christian Academy before losing to Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville. Sectional pairing will be released Tuesday.
“The first year they struggled. The second year they won a sectional game,” Lambert said. “I’d love to see these kids get even deeper in the sectionals. I think they can make some noise in the Ds.”