2-0 win goes into overtime, play final today
by Jeffery McDaniel
Under a concrete-colored sky, the Haldane’s Girls soccer team faced off against the Avon Lady Braves, from just south of Rochester, in the Class C state semi-finals on Saturday November 13th at Cortland High School in the Finger Lakes district, about three hours north and west of Cold Spring.
The temperature hovered a couple degrees above freezing, as one hundred and twenty of the Haldane faithful gathered on the left side of the metal bleachers and an equal number of the Avon faithful gathered on the right side about ten yards away, within earshot. Parents and young kids huddled in down jackets under blankets. Teenagers sported football jackets and hooded sweatshirts. An inch of snow had been pushed to the field’s perimeter. The bleacher’s metal walkway was covered in two inches of ice that had people slipping. Soccer was probably not invented with such conditions in mind, but alas weather is one of the rewards for making it this far in the state tournament.
Before the game even had a chance to get into its rhythm, just twelve minutes in, a player from Avon went down near midfield. It must’ve been a wicked injury, as it resulted in a break that lasted almost thirty minutes. The Haldane players began going through pregame drills to stay warm and loose. Finally play resumed.
Haldane controlled much of the possession. Midfielder Bailey McCollum seemed to be all over the field, zooming around with the agency and effectiveness of a queen on a chessboard. Haldane theater star Bella Convertino provided flashes of energy, zipping up and down the field. The Haldane midfielders and defenders in general seemed a step quicker than the opposition. But all of Haldane’s dominance in possession resulted in few scoring opportunities, as the Avon defenders were quick to the ball and disciplined, and they did not give the Haldane strikers much room to operate. Some strikers could get frustrated in such circumstances, but Allie Monteleone and Marina Martin remained tenacious and kept up the pressure.
Play began to get more and more physical—bodies banging together, elbows jostling for fifty-fifty balls. The Avon fans begin clamoring for referee intervention, howling for yellow cards. At the thirty-minute mark, they got their wish so to speak when when one of their own players was booked for slamming into Haldane sweeper Missy Lisikatos. A few minutes later, in quick succession, Haldane’s strikers, Allie Monteleone and Marina Martin, were both booked. Neither play seemed particularly card worthy. But maybe the ref was trying to keep control.
The Avon fans didn’t have much to cheer about in terms of offense, so they cheered loudest when Haldane players got yellow cards. On one long ball, two Avon players both went up for a header and collided in the air, and then both landed on the ground, sprawled. “Card one of them,” a Haldane fan said snarkily. It was the best fan banter of the day.
Soccer is often an unfair game. Even though Haldane managed most of the possession, at the end of the first half it was Avon that had the most dangerous scoring opportunity, when a counter attack resulted in a three-on-one jailbreak at midfield. An Avon player kicked the ball forward. Another Avon player sprinted into the clear. Haldane keeper Sara Labriola did an excellent job of calculating that she could get to the ball before the Avon striker, which she did, just by a second. A miscalculation on her part and Haldane would have gone into the half down by one.
Early in the second half, another player from Avon went down with an injury; this time play was only stopped for seven minutes, but it was still enough to disrupt the flow. When play resumed, Haldane again controlled possession, but with the chippy play, and the choppy rhythm, anything could happen. Soccer can be cruel like that.
At the fifty-five minute mark, something shifted, and Haldane’s offensive chances started getting better and better. If the Avon defense could be compared to a roof, then we in the stands could feel the roof on the verge of snapping. Missy Lisikatos, (who had a great game at sweeper, the ball hardly ever getting by her), charged forward and blasted a knuckleball of a shot that ricocheted off the Avon keeper, but an Avon defender was able to clean up the rebound. A few minutes later, a Haldane corner kick resulted in the ball bouncing perilously in front of the Avon net. In the 64th minute, the Avon central defender, who had a very solid game, finally misplayed a ball and Marina Martin, after a long sprint, found herself free about twelve yards in front of the Avon net with the ball, but her well-hit shot sailed a yard over the crossbar.
Around the 70th minute, Haldane had their best chance of the game. There was a well-played corner kick from Bailey McCollum that arced perfectly in front of the net. Allie Monteleone met the ball in flight, and smashed a vicious header. She had finally beaten the exceptional Avon keeper; the ball was headed so hard and aimed so well that there was no way any Avon player could react quick enough to stop it. Surely the back of the neck was about to snap. But wait. The ball slammed smack into the chest of an Avon defender who had positioned herself on the goal line before the corner kick. Her save was somewhere between a lucky break and an act of God.
The game trudged into overtime. The lame-duck sun sank into a grey puddle. During the five-minute intermission, I negotiated the icy bleacher walkway for a quick men’s room visit. Several dozen men were packed in the concrete building. No way was I waiting in that line. I turned to go back to the icy reality of my seat, when one of the men offered, “you can go to the bathroom. We’re all just here for the heat.” I entered and realized they were all pressed up against the mounted wall heaters. Another man cracked, “now, if they could just put a window in here.”
In the first half of overtime, the roof of the Avon defense finally collapsed. Allie Monteleone crossed a nice ball into the center of the box and Marina Martin deftly flicked it with her head, just enough to redirect the ball and send it squirting to the far left post. The keeper dove and got a noble glove on it, knocking it off the post, where it tumbled over the goal line, probably by less than a foot. In soccer, the entire ball must cross the goal line, and many of us in the stands were unsure if the ball had crossed in or not; the Avon keeper quickly rolled forward, as if the ball never went in. After a few seconds of confusing silence, the referee signaled goal. The Haldane faithful erupted. But this was not sudden death overtime, so the game continued.
Things opened up immediately. Avon became much more daring offensively, as they knew they had to score or else; they created a couple good chances. It made me wonder what would have happened if Haldane’s opponents had played an open and freer game from the start. Of course, the danger of being more aggressive offensively is that you run the risk of being vulnerable on defense. Sure enough, Allie Monteleone took advantage and found herself one-on-one on the right side of the box; she juked left, then right, then back left, and created daylight for herself in the center of the box, when she was taken down by an Avon defender. The referee whistled a penalty kick. Bailey McCollum calmly launched a thigh-high flare to the right side of the net. The Avon keeper guessed correctly and got a hand on it, but the shot was strong enough and well-targeted enough to still go in. 2–0 Haldane.
It was a tough earned victory. Avon played a smart, rugged game. The keeper and the Avon defenders in particular were impressive. It was kind of fitting for a game that was such a physical battle for the winning goal to only cross the line by a foot. The Haldane defense, led by sweeper Missy Lisikatos and goalie Sara Labriola were strong all day. The midfielders, led by Bailey McCollum, controlled possession. And the strikers Allie Monteleone and Marina Martin kept putting on pressure, and when their chances did come, they capitalized. It was a wonderful victory, and the team has seventeen hours to savor it. At ten-thirty on Sunday morning, they will square off against Lansing. Both teams will have revenge on their minds. Haldane knocked out Lansing in last year’s state semi-finals. Haldane lost last year in the championship game. The Haldane faithful better be ready to cheer, because the Lansing team hails from Ithaca, home of Odysseus, less than thirty minutes from where the game is being played.