Monteleone kicks team into the record book
By Jeffery McDaniel
In the class C state championship game between the Haldane Blue Devils and the Lansing Bobcats on Sunday at SUNY-Cortland in the Finger Lakes, the Bobcats had significantly more shots on goal, more corner kicks and more dangerous scoring opportunities. In fact, one could argue that, while Haldane did have some shots on goal, they did not have a single scoring opportunity that could be categorized as dangerous.
Then how did they win the state title? How can you score a goal without a bona-fide scoring opportunity? A shot that will go down in Haldane history and a valiant collective effort, that’s how.
With 17 hours’ rest, on a dreary, blustery day that felt colder than the 37 degrees advertised, Haldane squared off against a strong squad from Lansing, just outside Ithaca, a mere 25 minutes away by car. Despite the three-hour drive from Cold Spring, the Haldane faithful outnumbered the other team’s fans, with 200 people packing the bleachers and high school football players leaning against the metal railing overlooking the field.
Lansing had a number of opportunities that were downright tantalizing. In the 24th minute, a Lansing player rocketed a free kick from 25 yards out. It had “back of the net” written all over it. Goalie Sara Labriola deflected the ball just enough that it careened upwards and smacked off the cross bar and back into the field of play, where the players scrambled frantically — there’s something about the sound of a soccer ball whacking woodwork that makes a player’s blood turn electric. Lansing had a couple more perilous chances in the ensuing minutes, but Labriola and the Haldane defense weathered the barrage.
The Bobcats controlled the majority of possession in the first half and also established a physical style of play. The backstory is that in last year’s semifinal, Haldane out physical-ed Lansing and won the game, despite the Bobcats controlling much of possession. On Sunday, Lansing seemed determined to not only match Haldane’s physicality, but perhaps raise the ante.
On one emblematic play, a Lansing player went in for an airborne challenge with her leg high and smashed the Haldane defender in the back, knocking her to the ground. Things were not looking good for the Blue Devils; they were keeping the opposition at bay — in the 28th minute, sweeper Missy Lisikatos defused a potentially dangerous two-on-one from 40 yards out — but they could not get much going offensively.
Late in the first frame, Haldane right-winger Allie Monteleone twice tried to make something happen and went one-on-one at midfield with a Lansing defender, and twice she had her proverbial pocket picked. Allie received the ball a third time in the 36th minute. Again she went one-on-one; this time she eluded the defender and raced 30 yards with the ball. By the time she got to the right corner of the box, she had three Bobcats around her. She spun and darted and somehow wheeled and dealed her way into enough daylight to make a solid cross, where a Haldane player connected and got off a shot, which the keeper saved cleanly.
From one angle, it was an unimportant play. From another angle, it was a tremendous act of will — one player saying, “I, we can do this,” and it was a real momentum shifter. After that, Haldane played with more authority and efficiency, getting better offensive opportunities. The “Go Blue” chants in the stands grew louder.
In the 47th minute, Lansing had a corner kick. It was a perilous situation; Monteleone came all the way back to defend. The ball was well played into the center. She did a great job of clearing it with her head. But a Lansing player barreled into her and Monteleone came up holding her noggin, appearing a little woozy. The Haldane faithful held their collective breath. Luckily she was OK, because she had a date with destiny scheduled a few minutes later.
In the 54th minute, Monteleone did something remarkable. In fact, “remarkable” is an understatement. She had the ball about 25 yards out, on the right side of the field — 40 yards from the net. This was not a scoring opportunity. This was a prelude to a scoring opportunity. I do not believe anyone in the stands was thinking “shot,” when Monteleone, with the ball bouncing softly in front of her and a defender 5 feet away, got her full foot under the ball and met it in the air and set it flying. The ball left her foot with velocity and reached a height of about 20 feet as it sped towards the goal. The Haldane faithful rose to their feet. “Could this be happening,” they wondered. The ball seemed to be moving very quickly and hanging in the air simultaneously. The Lansing keeper, who played an excellent game (and would win best keeper of the tournament), appeared flummoxed.
Logic would suggest that she was well-positioned on the right post, but the ball — the perfect combination of power and arc — kept sailing through the air and over her head, leaving her off-balance and swinging her arms like a marionette. The wind pushed the ball down just before it entered the left side of the goal, about 6 feet high and sinking into the left corner of the net. The Haldane faithful erupted. It felt like we had just watched a miracle — one of the best goals any of us had ever seen — as the full capacity of a star player’s talent expanded to inhabit the hugeness of the moment.
The final 25 minutes were joyous and hectic. There were several corner kicks and great chances for Lansing. A quick kick from the corner caught Haldane off-guard and resulted in a shot from close range, but Labriola blocked the ball with her foot, and it squirted 20 feet straight up in the air, landing with a wicked spin so close to the goal that the Haldane faithful weren’t sure if the ball had gone in or not. Lansing had other chances — the sound of their knuckles banging on the door practically echoed through the bleachers.
There was a handful of corner kicks, often with nine offenders in the box, the ball trickling across the front of the net, making everyone jump, like a mouse at Thanksgiving. But Labriola kept making save after save, and Missy Lisikatos, Bailey McCollum, Sara Jacoby and the rest of the determined and gutsy Haldane players kept turning back the charge and clearing the ball. Finally the whistle blew: a heroic, glorious effort that will go down in the history books of Haldane lore.
The State Champion Blue Devils
Seniors: Sara Jacoby, Allie Monteleone, Jordan Erickson. Juniors: Sara Labriola, Bailey McCollum, Bella Convertino, Marina Martin, Savannah Williams, Tobey Kane-Seitz, Ally Ashburn, Kyra Cimino. Sophomores: Hannah Monteleone, Teresa Figueiras, Lila Osborn, Missy Lisikatos, Mary Margaret-Dwyer, Alzy Cinquanta. Freshmen: Miranda Musso, Allison Chiera, Amelia Hall. Eighth Grader: Julia Rotando.