STILLWATER — A year ago, all the motivation necessary for the Stillwater girls’ soccer team came from the championship-game loss it suffered to close its prior campaign.
For Stillwater, it’s all about proving its dominant 2018 season was no fluke.
“We’re motivated because now teams want to beat us. We’re a team to beat [because] teams want to beat the state champion,” Stillwater senior star Brooke Pickett said Monday on the first day of 2019’s high school fall sports season in New York. “We want to prove that we earned what we got last year, and that we’re going to come back even stronger.”
A quick glance at Stillwater’s accomplishments from last year, though, shows why head coach Christine Ihnatolya’s program will have such a difficult time outdoing itself in 2019. On its way to a Class C state championship, the Warriors went 22-0-1 and outscored their opponents 129-16 for the year. In its seven postseason games, Stillwater scored 39 goals — and allowed one.
“Our main goal is to get back to where we were last year,” said junior Keelyn Peacock, whose team won last year’s state title with a 5-0 decision against Section III’s Little Falls. “We want to get back and win by double what we won by.”
Doing that, of course, seems unlikely — but Stillwater realistically has the ingredients to be even better this season than it was during last year’s campaign. The Warriors only lost a couple key contributors from last season when they won their program’s first state championship with a team loaded with sophomores and juniors.
This year, the team returns the state’s reigning Class C player of the year in Pickett, who scored 52 goals last season, plus other stars such as Peacock, junior Teya Staie and junior Devon Wagner.
Most importantly, the Warriors remain hungry. They’re capable of looking at their 2018 season and knowing it could have even been a little bit better.
“We didn’t win every game. We had one tie,” said Stillwater senior Kate McEvoy, whose team tied rival Mechanicville 3-3 before closing its season with 10 consecutive wins. “So, this year, we want all wins and no ties.”
“I think we can show just how good we are, how much talent we have and how much depth we have,” Pickett said.
Ihnatolya said she has already emphasized with her group how much effort will go into a run at defending its state title.
“We’ve talked about how we have the tools to do it again, but so much more goes into it than talent,” said Ihnatolya, whose team’s season starts Aug. 28 with a home tournament game against Schenectady. “We stayed healthy last year. We were so positive with each other. We had good camaraderie. We worked hard. There’s so many factors that go into it.”
Long before their preseason started, Pickett said the Warriors were ready to get back to work. The challenge of repeating as state champions is one the Warriors plan to embrace.
“We’re all just so excited to be back with our friends,” Pickett said. “We’ve been counting down the days to get back out here.”
Just as a season-ending loss motivated Stillwater throughout its 2018 season, a season-ending win will provide the same fuel for the Warriors in 2019.
“We feel like we have to work even harder to win it again,” McEvoy said.