CORTLAND — The first celebration was a subdued one.
Before her Stillwater girls’ soccer teammates reached her to offer hugs, junior Brooke Pickett reacted to her first goal of Sunday’s Class C state championship game with a long, steadying breath intended to clear the last of her nerves.
After Pickett’s second goal?
That celebration was of the jumping-around-and-fist-pumping variety for the junior, as the moment overcame Pickett and her teammates after a year spent dedicating themselves to get back to the game they lost in heartbreaking fashion last season.
“The first one, that one was just like, ‘Thank God. OK. Now we got to keep going,’” Pickett said. “That second one was more ‘Now we’re on a roll. We can keep this up and we can win it.’”
Stillwater did just that, as the Warriors claimed their program’s first-ever state championship with one last dominant performance in a season filled with them. Pickett scored Stillwater’s first three goals in its 5-0 win against Little Falls at Cortland High School, while junior Paige Brinsko added the team’s fourth goal and a booming kick from sophomore Keelyn Peacock that hit off a Little Falls defender completed Stillwater’s scoring. Pickett was named Stillwater’s most outstanding player for the tournament, while sophomore Kiersten Conroy was recognized as the tournament’s top goalie.
“That feeling last year, we really didn’t want to feel that again,” said Pickett, whose team fell 3-2 in the 2017 final to Allegany-Limestone. “So the pressure to win this game, to win this whole thing, and to take it home was a lot on us, but we came out and we got it done.”
“There was a lot more determination and grit after last year,” Stillwater head coach Christine Ihnatolya said. “We got here last year and we didn’t win it. When we got back to the finals, we knew we had to get it done and we were going to do anything we could to get it done.”
But, still, there were those doubts — and they briefly showed in Sunday’s first few minutes for Stillwater. Pickett, though, scored in the seventh minute off a rebound of a Peacock shot and that calmed the Warriors.
“We were all nervous wrecks because we know what it’s like to lose this game. We know how big of a deal it is,” Brinsko said. “But as soon as we scored that goal, we all started working together and playing a team. We love each other, and we play so well together when we’re not nervous.”
The game stayed at 1-0 until late in the first half when a corner kick for Little Falls went awry and led to a breakaway for Pickett, who slid the ball under the outstretched arm of Little Falls’ charging senior goalie Kylie Miles to put the Warriors up 2-0 in the 39th minute.
Pickett added her final goal in the 56th minute. Ihnatolya’s top star finished her junior season with 52 goals, and got the last three in a game where the Little Falls defense did everything it could to keep the ball away from her.
“But she didn’t get frustrated,” Ihnatolya said, “and when she got the ball to her feet, she just did what she knows how to do best.”
Brinsko made it 4-0 Stillwater after knocking in a goal off a corner kick from Peacock. The final goal for the Warriors came in the 79th minute when a centering kick from Peacock appeared to deflect off a Little Falls player.
“We all had this feeling that we could do it this year,” Stillwater sophomore Teya Staie said. “We were just so motivated by last year — that last game — and how we didn’t win.”
And with the exception of a tie with Mechanicville, all Stillwater did during its 2018 season was win. In topping Little Falls (Section III, 20-3-0), Stillwater (22-0-1) completed a campaign in which it outscored opponents by a combined score of 129-16. Since recording a 3-3 tie against Mechanicville in early October, the Warriors outscored their opponents 52-3 in their final 10 wins. In seven postseason victories, Stillwater outdid its foes 39-1.
“We stuck together as a team,” Pickett said. “We never fought once. We wanted this so badly, and we came out and we got it done.”
And it meant a lot, Pickett said, that the Warriors played their final game in front of a crowd filled with supporters from their hometown.
“We have so much support from Stillwater,” Pickett said. “Coming out here and winning it for them was amazing.”
Stillwater was Section II’s lone soccer state champion this year. Bethlehem lost 1-0 Sunday in the Class AA final to Monroe-Woodbury, while Fort Ann fell 1-0 to Kendall in the Class D championship game.
Stillwater brings back the bulk of its roster for next season. While their 2017 championship loss motivated them, Pickett said the Warriors’ final win in 2018 will do the same for them as they start their offseason.
“We know we can’t come into next year just thinking we’ll make it back,” Pickett said.