It was a school-first accomplishment, and one the Russell Sage College women’s soccer program celebrated this past week.
But head coach Garrett Cobb’s group also views the Empire 8 Championship it won last Saturday, the first Empire 8 conference championship win in any sport for Russell Sage since it joined the league in 2017, as a springboard toward more success.
“We’re definitely still celebrating. I know I am. I know the players are, as well,” Cobb said earlier this week. “But we’re also hungry. We do realize this was a condensed year, and we have another goal of going out in the fall and winning the Empire 8 title again and getting to the NCAA tournament. That’s the goal — to represent Russell Sage and the local area in the NCAAs.”
Russell Sage’s season, shifted to the spring semester because of restrictions related to the novel coronavirus pandemic, started March 17 with a 2-0 win against Utica and closed with last weekend’s 2-1 overtime win against Utica. In between, Russell Sage won three of five games, as the club that includes numerous former Section II graduates produced a 5-2 season after it finished 7-11 during a 2019 campaign that saw it lose its final seven games.
Cobb, a 1999 Shenendehowa High School graduate who just completed his fifth year as Russell Sage’s head coach, said his players were “not happy” following that 2019 campaign — but in a good way that motivated the squad as it headed into what turned out to be a much longer than expected offseason because of the pandemic.
“The team thought we’d underachieved. We kind of let ourselves down in a few games, but we knew what we were capable of doing,” Cobb said. “We believed we had enough talent.”
In that extra-long offseason, Cobb said his team had highs and lows as it waited for the chance to play.
“But we always kept momentum going in the right direction,” Cobb said.
That showed during the 2020-21 season, which saw Russell Sage earn the No. 2 seed for the playoffs before topping Alfred 2-0 in the semifinals. In Russell Sage’s championship victory, Utica scored first, but Hallie Klosterman tied the game with a second-half score, then Klosterman won the game with a penalty kick in overtime of a game that ended Russell Sage’s campaign since there is no NCAA tournament this season because of the pandemic.
“It was definitely a memorable performance from the team. They had a never-quit attitude,” Cobb said. “This whole year, with everything that’s gone on, to cap it off with a championship was icing on the cake, to say the least.”
Klosterman, the Empire 8 tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, was one of five Russell Sage players to earn an all-conference selection this season, while freshman Marissa Key was named the league’s Rookie of the Year. Earning first-team selections along with Klosterman were Natalie Ricci, Angela Gonzalez and Samantha Schmidt, while a second-team spot belonged to Lydia Malkiewicz.
Ricci (Cohoes), Gonzalez (Hoosick Falls), Schmidt (Mohonasen) and Malkiewicz (Colonie) were among the team’s players that were once Section II stars, as was goalie Kallan Shertzer (Shenendehowa), who made three saves in the championship game to finish with a 5-0 mark on the season.
The team’s other players that attended Section II schools include Stephanie Mason (Berne-Knox-Westerlo), Taylor Mann (Hoosick Falls), Julia Gleasman (Voorheesville), Delaney Burton (Averill Park), Alyssa Duval (Fonda-Fultonville), Alyssa Sanichar (Niskayuna) and Isa Provost (Shaker).
“There’s a lot of local soccer talent in this area,” Cobb said. “That was one of my goals when I started here, was I wanted to start there [with recruiting] and then build.”
Cobb’s coaching staff also includes several assistants with local ties, as Corey Terpening (Waterford-Halfmoon), John Toper (Amsterdam), Taylor Dorado (Guilderland) and Andrew Doody (Tamarac) all played high school soccer locally. Terpening also played at Hudson Valley Community College and Saint Rose, while Dorado — a graduate assistant — starred at Siena.