Niskayuna hasn’t had a chance to get to the state girls’ soccer final four since 2006.
Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake is still upset because it missed a chance for a fourth straight trip to the state semis a year ago.
Both will advance to next weekend’s state finals in the Cortland area with wins today. The Class AA champion Silver Warriors play Section III champion Cicero/North Syracuse at 2 p.m. at Stillwater High School, Burnt Hills follows with its Class A regional final against Peru.
Niskayuna coach Bryce Colby is happy to be able to play a team not from the Suburban Council.
“When you have a sectional tournament that’s basically just your league, you’re playing the same teams a second or third time. Just to play someone not in our league is an exciting thing,” said Colby, whose team beat Saratoga Springs, 2-0, in the Section II final. “The interesting thing about this game is that you don’t know what you’re going to get. It could be a tougher game, a tougher team, you just don’t know.
“So the only thing you can do is prepare your own team. There’s a lot of unknowns, so you’ve got to be ready to play, ready to react to the game. You want to get out of that first 10 minutes ahead, or at least not having hurt yourself.”
“It’s an awesome opportunity. All of us are so excited and ready to play,” said senior midfielder Hailey Golub. “The loss [in the sectional semifinals] last year made us want it more this year.”
Golub and 11th-grader Stephanie Tate, the central defender in Niskayuna’s three-back system, will have big roles in trying to hold off the Northstars, who advanced with a 3-0 win over Baldwinsville, with junior Reid Gardner scoring her 21st and 22nd goals of the season.
“Most of the time, defensively we know who we’re marking, but there’s always a question of whether there’s three up top, or two up top, so it’s my job to sort out which midfielder has what, who’s pushing up and who’s staying back,” said Golub.
“Apparently, they have one forward who’s really fast, and they’re going to play long balls up to her and try to get behind us,” said Tate. “We’re going to have to make sure we don’t give her many opportunities.”
Senior Meghan Doyle, the Suburban Council Player of the Year, leads 16-3-0 Niskayuna with 18 goals. Sophomore Marika Contompasis has emerged as a strong complementary forward to Doyle, and junior Rachel Walsh has a goal and assist in the last two games.
“Rachel Walsh has seven goals and five assists, and in any system, coming from outside midfield, that’s a lot of goals,” said Colby. “She’s been very steady, very consistent.”
Burnt Hills has been waiting for today’s game for a year.
“After a year off, getting to the state final four has been our focus since Aug. 19,” said Burnt Hills coach Brian Bold, referring to a 1-0 loss to Jamesville-DeWitt in last year’s regional semis. “It’s also the 10th anniversary of our state championship.”
As in most years, Burnt Hills’ record is deceptive. The Lady Spartans are 11-7-2, but are 4-0-1 in their last five, including a 2-0 win over Niskayuna in their final Suburban Council game.
“Regardless of who we play, we want to play our own style, the way we’ve been playing since the Niskayuna game,” said Bold.
Burnt Hills has given up just three goals in its five-game unbeaten run, two coming in Tuesday’s regional semi against Jamesville-DeWitt.
Seniors Michaela Hitt and Angie Giorgio have been solid in the middle of Burnt Hills’ back four. The play of outside backs Elle Muller and Kylee Babcock has also been a big factor in the team’s success.
“We don’t zone, we man-mark, so the outside backs typically match up with the other team’s key player,” said Bold. “They’ve been very steady.
“Kylee is very tactical, she reads the game well, reads the passing lanes and can get into the offense,” said Bold of the 10th-grader. “Elle is a physical player. She plays big, makes tackles and is a strong ball winner. Both of them have been very steady,”
Peru advanced with a 2-1 win over Malone, with Lauren Bushey getting the goal.
“She came down here to play with the Alleycats, so we’re a little familiar with her,” Bold said. “They’ve got seven losses, and I expect them to play us like other North Country teams, try to beat us up a little, pack it in on defense and try to counter. That’s why it would be nice to score early and then play our style.”
Western Athletic Conference teams Canajoharie (Class C) and Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville (Class D) will be on the road in regional finals. The 17-3-0 Cougars have a 5 p.m. match against Section VII champion Northern Adirondack at Plattsburgh High School. The 15-3-1 Lady Wolves play Section IX Eldred at 3 at Middletown High School.
The Guilderland boys play Baldwinsville (Section III) at 1 p.m. at Colonie High School in a Class AA regional final. The 15-4-0 Dutchmen beat Albany for the program’s first sectional title since 2008.