Niskayuna boys’ soccer coach Terrence Sloan saw the bracket for the Suburban Council soccer tournament and thought of seasons past, when teams would be striving for Section II laurels and state tournament berths.
“It looks like these are quarterfinal games from a sectional year,” Sloan said of the four matchups scheduled for Tuesday. “Every game on the schedule, anyone can win. Anyone can knock off the other team. There’s no easy win.”
That’s what Niskayuna’s coach keeps telling his Silver Warriors (No. 3 seed, 8-1-3) heading into their quarterfinal at home against Shaker (No. 6, 6-6-0). Niskayuna beat Shaker 2-0 back on Oct. 17 when Michael Puccione scored a goal in each half.
“They [Shaker] have a couple of dynamic players we have to be aware of,” Sloan said. “They’ve got Colin Brant up top, Dan Mattox in the middle, and a bunch of role players that know how to play the game. They’re solid. We can’t sleep on them.”
Opposite of the Niskayuna-Shaker game is a contest between Albany (No. 7, 5-5-2) and host CBA (No. 2, 10-2-0). CBA handed Niskayuna its only loss 1-0 on Oct. 22.
“We could see CBA again. We haven’t beaten them since they joined the Suburban Council and we’d like to get the monkey off our back, but we can’t lose sight of the first game,” Sloan said. “We have to beat Shaker first, and then we’ll shift our focus.”
Niskayuna is 4-0-3 since the CBA loss, which includes a 1-1 tie with Shenendehowa and a 3-0 win over Albany to conclude the regular season.
“Playing Shenendehowa and Albany was the best-case scenario for us,” Sloan said. “I’d rather play two tough games like that heading into a playoff situation. We just played two demanding games and had good results. I feel we’re peaking at the right time.”
Colonie (No. 8, 5-5-2) plays at Shenendehowa (No. 1, 10-0-2), and Guilderland (No. 5, 6-4-2) goes to Saratoga Springs (No. 4, 7-2-3), for the other boys’ quarterfinals.
In girls’ quarterfinals Tuesday, Colonie (No. 8, 4-5-2) plays at Shenendehowa (No. 1, 10-0-1), Guilderland (No. 5, 6-4-1) plays at Columbia (No. 4, 6-3-2), Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake (No. 6, 5-5-1) meets Niskayuna (No. 3, 7-3-1) at Schenectady High School, and Saratoga Springs (No. 7, 5-6-0) goes to Shaker (No. 2, 10-0-1).
Semifinals in both tournaments are Thursday and championship games are slated for Saturday.
No Section II or states championship competitions are scheduled for this year because of concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.
With a roster of 26 players that includes 11 seniors, it’s been a memorable fall thus far for the top-seeded Shenendehowa girls’ soccer squad.
“If anyone had asked me in September if we would be here in November, a powerful ‘Yes’ would not have been my answer,” Shenendehowa head coach Holli Nirsberger said. “I don’t think anyone would have.”
Often, Nirsberger reminded her players this season that the Suburban Council was just one of two Section II leagues playing soccer this fall.
“We kept on using the word ‘opportunity’ with the kids,” she said. “This is one heck of an opportunity that very few people are getting right now.”
At the start of the season in mid-September, only regular season games were offered, but Suburban Council officials worked to add an extra layer of meaning to the fall season with a postseason tournament.
“We started with not having anything to play for, but the opportunity [to play] was there,” Nirsberger said. “Now, we actually have that little carrot to dangle, something to play for, which we are really appreciative of.”
Despite the different structure of the season and postseason, this week offers a similar path the Plainsmen have been on before — hosting a quarterfinal to start a run at an area championship.
“I think the potential is there, and their ability to perform is there,” Nirsberger said. “Can we arrive there? Win or lose, this is going to be a memorable season.”
She added: “Fingers crossed.”
READY TO GO
Fifth-seeded Guilderland is on a roll heading into its tournament quarterfinal matchup at Saratoga Springs, as the Dutchmen bring a four-game winning streak — capped by Friday’s 3-2 comeback win at CBA in which the Dutchmen generated all of their goals in the final 19 minutes — into the postseason.
“That shows you a lot about the whole team,” Guilderland coach Mike Kinnally said.
His team stood at 1-3-2 after a 1-0 loss at Shenendehowa on Oct. 22, and is 5-1 since with wins over Shaker, Troy and Albany coming before the CBA stunner that kept the Brothers from getting the No. 1 tournament seed.
“We started out sloppy and slow. We’re playing better now. We’re healthier now,” Kinnally said. “I feel good about how we’re playing. No matter who we play, we’ll get opportunities. Can we cash in is the question.”
Sophomore Illia Tyrkus, and seniors Shoun Francis and Bugra Karaca did just that to lift Guilderland past CBA, with Karaca connecting in the 78th minute.
CBA had won six straight games and also got a forfeit win against Averill Park before the setback. Shenendehowa (10-0-2) took advantage of CBA’s misfortune with a 3-1 win at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Saturday to secure the No. 1 seed.