CLIFTON PARK — The game was all even, and then it wasn't.
Shenendehowa had the tying goal waved off with a few minutes to go in last season's Section II Class AA girls' soccer final and wound up on the losing end of a 2-1 score against Bethlehem.
Bethlehem went on to play for the state championship. Those on the Shenendehowa side think maybe that could have been them.
"We don't want to dwell on the way last season ended," Shenendehowa senior co-captain Danielle Casey said. "But it's something we're not going to forget."
The Plainsmen captured the area Class AA title in 2017, and making it two in three years is a goal the Plainsmen believe is attainable despite significant player turnover.
"We won two years ago [against Niskayuna 1-0] and lost last year," Plainsmen senior co-captain Sarah Monroe said. "Two years ago was a much more enjoyable ending. We'd like to feel that again."
"The girls know what they want, and they're ready to work for it," Shenendehowa coach Holli Nirsberger said.
There is plenty of work to do for a Shenendehowa team that opens its fall season at home Tuesday against Troy.
"With the style of play we envision as a coaching staff, we've got to be a little more fit," Nirsberger said. "We've got to get some of the girls a little more comfortable with the ball. We've got to get better with our transition game."
Ten seniors from last year's 13-4-3 edition graduated, including Bella Guarracino, whose goal in the 68th minute pulled Shenendehowa into a 1-1 tie with Bethlehem. Piper Gregory nudged Bethlehem ahead in the 77th minute, and soon after, Shenendehowa had its goal that came in a scramble waved off on a controversial call.
Nirsberger spoke to the officials after the game.
“He told me that the [Bethlehem] keeper had clean possession,” Nirsberger said to a Gazette reporter that late-October night. “So, naturally, that’s her ball — but my argument is how did the ball end up in the back of the net if she had clean possession? I think it’s a game-changer. I think the call is a game-changer.”
Nirsberger said she believes Shenendehowa would have prevailed had the tying goal stood.
"My girls still had something left in them," Nirsberger said. "They were playing with energy."
Seven seniors will lead Shenendehowa in its bid for Suburban Council and postseason success.
"We are trying a couple different things," Nirsberger said. "We might be moving some girls to different positions. We've got the pieces, and now we've got to put the puzzle together."
Twelve juniors and four sophomores dot the varsity roster.
"We have a lot of younger girls stepping in," said Casey, the lone Suburban Council first-team all-star returning of the four Shenendehowa had named in 2018. "We're confident in them."
Here are five other Section II fall teams looking to take that next step after coming up just shy in 2018.
MOHONASEN GIRLS' CROSS COUNTRY
Runner-up to Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake at the last two Section II Class B cross country championships, Mohonasen will bid for the front position with a team that has four of its top five back led by junior Kate Sherman. Tully Runners has Burnt Hills and Mohonasen No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, in its preseason state Class B rankings. Mohonasen placed third at the sectionals in 2016 before its back-to-back runner-up efforts.
Class AA Super Bowl losses to Shaker last year (28-14) and Troy in 2017 (28-6) have the Blue Streaks itching to get back and make amends. Saratoga Springs last won an area championship in 2015, a year that ended with the Blue Streaks as state runner-up.
SHENENDEHOWA FIELD HOCKEY
Since winning the state Class A field hockey championship in 2016, Shenendehowa hasn't advanced beyond Section II, with title-game setbacks against Saratoga Springs in 2017 (4-3) and 2018 (2-1 OT). The Plainsmen have a small senior class led by Ohio State-bound goalkeeper Abby Danson, but several talented youngsters, and are ranked No. 9 on the MAX Field Hockey Northeast preseason poll.
BETHLEHEM BOYS' VOLLEYBALL
Could this be the year Bethlehem finally gets back on top? Since winning four straight Section II Division 1 title matches against Shenendehowa, the Eagles have finished second to the Plainsmen in each of the last four years. Last year's championship match was tied at one set apiece before Shenendehowa took the next two and kept Bethlehem on hold.
NISKAYUNA GIRLS' SWIMMING
The Niskayuna girls' swimming and diving team is eyeing the top spot in Section II after claiming Division 1 titles in 2016 and 2017. Shenendehowa denied Niskayuna a three-peat last season when it won only one event in the finals, but used its depth to secure the large-school championship. Shenendehowa and Niskayuna are the only teams to win large-school area titles since 2008.