STILLWATER — When she first took the varsity coaching job with the Stillwater girls’ soccer program, one of the positive things Christine Ihnatolya heard about her team’s future was the players currently starring on it.
Ihnatolya is now in her sixth year coaching the Warriors — and most of her stars are sophomores and juniors who have lived up to the hype around them since they were fourth- and fifth-graders.
“I always knew it was going to be something special with them,” Ihnatolya said. “But I guess I just didn’t expect it to be this special.”
A year ago, Stillwater made a surprise run to the Class C state championship game before falling 3-2 in the final to Allegany-Limestone. This year, the surprise will be if Stillwater doesn’t claim its program’s first state championship this weekend.
“That’s our main goal,” said Stillwater sophomore Teya Staie, whose team plays in its state semifinal 3 p.m. Saturday against Section I’s Haldane at Cortland High School. “That’s the whole thing for us.”
Staie is one of those Stillwater stars who have played together for as long as they can remember. What started as a group of youngsters playing recreational soccer together has developed into a dominant machine that is relentless in putting pressure on opposing defenses. While junior Brooke Pickett leads the Warriors with 48 goals and 27 assists, Stillwater’s offensive attack is a unified effort that has helped the Warriors blitz its way through five postseason games with a combined score of 30-1.
“The trust we have here is great,” Pickett said. “We always know where each other is going to be because we’ve been playing together for so long.”
Stillwater, which is 20-0-1 on the season, won its area and regional championship games with matching 6-0 scores at Mechanicville High School.
“It’s been awesome,” Stillwater sophomore Keelyn Peacock said. “I wouldn’t want to play with a different set of girls. This is always just so much, just playing with girls you know always have your back. It’s just been awesome.”
Heading into the final weekend of the high school soccer season, Stillwater is ranked No. 1. That lofty ranking hasn’t stopped the Warriors from trying to improve each week as they pursue the state championship they crave.
“They continue to work hard and play together as a team,” Ihnatolya said. “That’s really paid off for them.”
While a young team, Stillwater is taking nothing for granted this weekend. The Warriors look like a program capable of winning multiple state championships, but their only focus is on making sure they take care of what’s right in front of them.
“We know we only have so many opportunities to get back,” Staei said. “We just want to finish the job this year.”