Alaina Lange learned not to take any opponent for granted as she watched the Schalmont girls’ soccer team finish among the top four in the state the past two seasons.
That lesson is one she reinforces daily in her first season as the team’s head coach, a season that has the Lady Sabres again the best team in the Colonial Council and one of the top Class B teams in Section II.
“Every game I tell them, ‘You never know what’s going to happen,’ ” Lange said after Schalmont beat a good Albany Academy team, 2-0, Thursday to move to 11-0-0. “I could see by the scores of their games this season that they’ve gotten it together, You could see in the first game that they were athletic, and they’re good players.”
Schalmont opened the season with an 8-1 win over the Bears, who had gone 8-1 since that game. Only a goal by junior Bianca Mascitelli separated the teams after the first 40 minutes Thursday.
“We were a little unfocused in the first half, but we much better at going to the ball in the second half,” said Lange, who moved up from assistant coach when Angelo Caschera stepped down.
Senior co-captain Madeline Saccocio, one of a handful of returning players with significant playing time from the 2011 state championship and 2012 state semifinalist teams, made it a two-goal game nine minutes into the second half.
“We lost a lot of really skillful players from last year, but we have a lot of younger players who are really skilled,” said Saccocio, one of four seniors, two of whom are goalkeepers, on the team. “I think we’re playing more as a team. We move the ball very well, very fast. It’s very technical, and it seems to be working.”
“They’re very unselfish,” said Lange. “They have the mentality that the person on the field next to them is as good as they are. They all have confidence in everyone on the field.”
Whatever Academy coach Greg Giombetti is telling his players is also working.
“We just came into this league five years ago, and we were the laughingstock of the league. Four years ago, I had 11 kids on varsity,” he said. “Now, they’re competitive, They believe in themselves. Today, they realized they can play with anybody.
“The first game of the year, they beat us, 8-1. We just weren’t ready. Today, if we could have finished one opportunity, that’s where the game changes. That’s when they maybe get on their heels a little bit. And now we’re in a game.”
Giombetti came into the season expecting his club to contend for the Class C title, after losing to eventual state champion Hoosick Falls in the 2012 sectional semifinals. But the Bears were reclassified by Section II as a Class B team this season, moving into the biggest enrollment classification in the section which includes Schalmont, 2012 runner-up Broadalbin-Perth, Hoosick Falls and Mechanicville, last fall’s Class C runner-up.
“I was so excited about this year, with this team. Then my AD tells me, ‘You’re Class B this year.’ There’s no way on God’s green earth that we should be a Class B,” he said.
“It doesn’t make sense, but I guess they look at the boys’ side, at their [enrollment] numbers, and it affects the girls. But it’s not the same thing. That’s what frustrates me.
“Because there are so many more boys coming into the school, we get penalized for it, as far as I can see.”
The Bears got a second first-hand look at a Schalmont team that has given up only three goals this season. Sophomore Kennedy Cronk centers the Lady Sabres’ back three, flanked by classmate Rachel DiCocco and freshman Alexis Horwedel.
“They’re very patient and composed, and that carries through to our midfielders and forwards,” said Lange of the precocious defenders. “They’re playing back to their keeper, they’re looking upfield.
“We want them to control coming out of the back, rather than just getting rid of the ball. If you keep just clearing the ball out, it’s going to get jammed right back down your throat.”