With her height and shoulder-length pink hair, Lexie Thompson certainly stands out on a soccer field.
The Niskayuna girls’ soccer senior defender stands out for other reasons, too.
“This year, she’s grown into that role of a leader,” Niskayuna coach Bryce Colby said. “Senior year, you come in with a little more confidence.”
Thompson has been that leader both with her play and her words, often directing traffic like she did in the late stages of Tuesday’s Suburban Council tournament quarterfinal game when Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake was pressing for the tying goal.
“A lot of talking and organizing,” Thompson said of her role as Niskayuna’s center back. “Making sure everyone is on their mark.”
They were Tuesday in a 1-0 win that sent Niskayuna (No. 3 seed, 8-3-1) to Shaker (No. 2, 11-0-1) for a 5:30 p.m. tournament semifinal game Thursday. Burnt Hills coach Marisah Boucher took note of the 5-foot-10 defender who was vocal and effective with plenty of stops and long drives the other way.
“She was solid back there,” Boucher said. “She made our girls work that much harder.”
Thompson helped Niskayuna record its sixth shutout Tuesday and second this fall against Burnt Hills.
“Drop back and stay composed,” Thompson said of her late-game thoughts. “If we can get another goal, great, but the priority is defense.”
The defensive standout got offensive last season when, on a corner kick play, she jumped higher than everyone else and headed home an overtime goal in Niskayuna’s 1-0 Section II Class AA semifinal win over Shenendehowa.
“She is great in the air,” Colby said. “That’s an area where we struggle the most, and she fills that gap.”
Though not the fastest player, Thompson uses her long strides to cover ground quickly at the defensive end, and is capable of dribbling the ball and making an accurate pass to kick-start an offensive sequence.
“She is very steady with the ball,” Colby said. “You know something is going to happen.”
Guilderland (No. 5, 6-4-2) travels to Shenendehowa (No. 1, 11-0-1) for Thursday’s other girls’ semifinal at 3:30 p.m.
On the boys’ side Thursday, Saratoga Springs (No. 4, 8-2-3) goes to Shenendehowa (No. 1, 11-0-2) for a 5:45 p.m. semifinal, and Niskayuna (No. 3, 9-1-3) plays at CBA (No. 2, 11-2-0) in a 2 p.m. semifinal.
Championship games are scheduled for Saturday.
PLAINSMEN SEEK IMPROVEMENT
A key to success for the Shenendehowa girls’ soccer team in its Thursday semifinal?
How successful Wednesday’s practice turns out.
“We had a little bit of an off practice [Monday], and I think we kind of took it into the first half here,” Shenendehowa coach Holli Nirsberger said after her team’s 1-0 quarterfinal win Tuesday against Colonie. “We weren’t really as energetic as we usually would be, but I think we worked through it.”
The top-seeded Plainsmen didn’t break through for a score until less than 10 minutes remained against Colonie.
“The kids didn’t necessarily do anything wrong — it was just weird,” Nirsberger said of the team’s Monday practice.
Coaches often point out teams need to practice how they expect to play.
“And we did that [Tuesday],” Nirsberger said. “Not in a great way, but we did that.”
After needing to survive and advance from Tuesday’s game, Plainsmen senior Maia LaVigne said her team will be better prepared to take on Guilderland.
“I think we’re all going to be a little more fired up to try and win the next game,” LaVigne said.
SARATOGA SPRINGS SURGING
It took a few games for the Saratoga Springs’ boys soccer team to find its footing this season.
The Blue Streaks were a respectable 2-1-1 through their first four games, with the only loss coming by one goal to CBA, but they hadn’t settled into a suitable rhythm.
Or . . . as junior midfielder Garrett Farr put it: “At the beginning, we were playing terrible.”
Since that Oct. 16 loss at CBA, Saratoga Springs has discovered its groove. In their last nine games, the Blue Streaks are 6-1-2 — which includes a forfeit win against an Averill Park program that ended its season when its district move to all-remote learning due to an increase in COVID-19 cases — and earned a spot in the Suburban Council semifinals when Farr’s header with 10:24 left in regulation provided a 3-2 win over Guilderland in the quarterfinals on Tuesday.
The secret to the turnaround, Saratoga Springs coach Jeff Geller said, has been a return to the program’s core principles.
“Beginning of the season, we had a lot of kids who wanted to play individually, and it showed,” Geller said. “We won some games, but we were struggling against some of the better teams. As soon as the team started to slow down and work with each other, the magic started to happen.”
Saratoga Springs’ lone loss during that nine-game stretch came Nov. 6 with a 2-0 setback against Shenendehowa. The Blue Streaks have a chance to avenge that result when they visit the Plainsmen for a game from which one of the rivals will emerge to head into Saturday’s Suburban Council finale.
“Last game [against Shenendehowa], we gave up two unlucky ones,” Farr said, “but we played with them. We’ve just got to keep playing through it and do our best to try and win it.”
NDIAYE KEY FOR NISKAYUNA
Regardless of whether it was snowing or the sun was shining, or if he needed to deal with a liner of a shot or a scramble right in front of his goal, Niskayuna junior Papa Ndiaye was up to the task in Tuesday’s boys’ soccer quarterfinal against Shaker.
“I just want to help boost the team in any way I can,” said Ndiaye after making five saves in Niskayuna’s seventh shutout of the season.
On the season, Niskayuna has only allowed seven goals heading into its matchup with CBA. One of those goals allowed came in Niskayuna’s 1-0 loss to CBA.
“That was our only loss of the year,” Niskayuna coach Terrence Sloan said, “and that goal came three minutes after Papa got hurt.”
Ndiaye wasn’t in goal for that CBA score. In his team’s rematch with the Brothers, his goal is a simple one.
“Just to win,” Ndiaye said. “You want to get to the final and then bring that title home.”