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Role players steal spotlight in girls 'AA' semifinals

Role players steal spotlight in girls 'AA' semifinals

The top-seeded teams and their star players advanced from Friday’s Section II Class AA girls’ soccer
Role players steal spotlight in girls 'AA' semifinals
Niskayuna's Alana McNulty (21) makes a play for a ball in the middle of a group of players during a Friday's Section II Class AA girls' soccer semifinal match in Stillwater.
Photographer: Michael Kelly

The top-seeded teams and their star players advanced from Friday’s Section II Class AA girls’ soccer semifinals to next Wednesday’s championship match, but both No. 1 Shenendehowa and No. 2 Niskayuna needed to rely on their supporting casts to make it happen.

“In these games, on these fields — on these turf fields — it’s a big thing, a big thing for those role players to get a goal because it’s very difficult for your attention-getters to get going,” Niskayuna head coach Bryce Colby said after his team’s 1-0 victory against No. 3 Shaker.

For the SIlver Warriors, their unexpected goal came from sophomore Alana McNulty, who scored her fourth goal of the season — and second of the postseason — on a header off a headed pass from senior star Marika Contompasis in the 49th minute.

Meanwhile, No. 5 Bethlehem was able to bottle up Plainsmen senior Meghan Cavanaugh — who shared this season’s Suburban Council’s Player of the Year award with Contompasis — during the latter half of the night’s doubleheader, but Shenendehowa senior Kat Frain and freshman Michelle Clarkin each put home scores for the Plainsmen in their 2-0 victory.

Frain’s go-ahead goal came in the 47th minute, while the senior assisted on Clarkin’s first score of the season in the 68th minute.

“She just had the game of her life,” Shenendehowa head coach Holli Nirsberger said of Frain, who had scored twice heading into Friday’s action.

Niskayuna, which spent two weeks earlier this season ranked No. 1 in the state, struggled to put away a scrappy Shaker team in the opener of Friday’s semifinals. But, like in the team’s 2-1 victory in the quarterfinals against No. 7 Guilderland, the Silver Warriors did not panic.

“We knew we had a full 80 minutes, and it only takes seconds to score,” Contompasis said.

That score happened after Niskayuna senior Hannah Munro landed a free kick on top of Contompasis’ head, who redirected the ball to a waiting McNulty for a finishing flick past Shaker junior keeper Madison LaMarche, who made 12 saves on the night.

“Once I scored, I turned around and my whole team was coming at me,” McNulty said. “Nothing was going through my head at all. I was just so excited.”

McNulty has scored as many goals in two postseason games as she did during the whole regular season.

“It makes our team that much more threatening to others when you can’t focus on two, three players,” Contompasis said. “If teams do . . . we know we can depend on [our role players] to do what they need to do.”

Later, Niskayuna sophomore keeper Morgan Kelleher stopped a point-blank shot from Shaker junior Erin Valente in the 61st minute to keep Niskayuna in front.

“That’s the best save of the season,” McNulty said. “It was awesome, and we needed it.”

The Plainsmen got what they needed from Frain, who scored her goal after a lengthy dribbling session up the sideline and down the endline before she booted the ball over Bethlehem senior keeper Miranda Manziano’s upraised hands.

“In the second half, we knew this was it,” Frain said. “I’m a senior, and I knew I had 40 minutes left and that we had to get it done.”

Bethlehem had won the title in 2014, and has eliminated Shenendehowa from a number of recent postseasons. Going through such a rival sweetened Friday’s win for the Plainsmen, but the victory was enough in itself.

“It does mean a little bit more, but really our goal was to get to that sectional final — and here we are,” Nirsberger said.

The Class AA championship match will take place Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Stillwater High School.

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