By CHRIS BROOKS, sports editor, wellsvillesports.com
The most incredible, thrilling action in the Class D1 bracket unfolded on a wet, windy Wednesday evening in the Maple City in the semifinals between No. 3 Naples and No. 2 Genesee Valley/Belfast.
The Big Green and Genesee Valley/Belfast waged war across all 110 minutes of free soccer there was to be played. Although the chances have piled up, none would find their way into the back of the net, ultimately forcing a scoreless tie between both teams.
Usually the game would end, but both teams were playing for a spot in this weekend’s Class D1 Finals. Instead, the game would be decided on the dreaded penalty kick session.
The two foes would go back and forth through the first four shooters to take the field in the west end, scoring in each of their first two attempts to tie it up, then a go-ahead tally for Genesee Valley/Belfast immediately after.
Perhaps the biggest moments of the game would come on the next shot from Naples, as Ashley Burrows made a stone cold save on Bella Fowler to keep them in the lead, setting up the chance for the golden goal on their next shot attempt.
The final shooter in line was Anna Drozdowski. And she made sure that it was well worth the wait.
With thanks to Burrows’ big save and then the big game-winning kick from their senior captain, Genesee Valley/Belfast has earned the right to fight for it all this weekend, as they overcome a scoreless tie with Naples after regulation play with redeeming quality in the penalty kick session, scoring an enormous 4-2 win to punch their ticket to the Class D1 Finals for the first time in their combined program history.
The Class D1 Finals stage is now officially set, as No. 5 Keshequa (1-0 winners over Fillmore) and No. 2 Genesee Valley/Belfast will now get set to do battle for all of the marbles on Saturday.
“Wow, what a night it was. We knew going into this game that it was going to be very evenly matched and that’s exactly what we got. A hard-fought, midfield battle with a little help from the soccer gods,” said GV/Belfast co-coach Duane Powers. “I’m at a loss for words. We talked midway through the season about how getting to this point became a real possibility. There were some bumps in the road, but they never quit. It truly was a complete team effort. I’m just so excited these seniors and this team will have a chance to prove themselves on the biggest stage.”
Back in regulation play, both teams fought all across the field all game long for possession. The scoring chances on both sides would mount along the way, with the offenses combining to record 21 total shots at the cage — a 12-9 margin that Genesee Valley/Belfast (12-3-3) would take advantage of.
“We certainly had some luck from the soccer gods tonight and we will take it. I am very proud of the ladies, and the way they held it all together because the first 15 minutes of the game were not in their favor,” said GV/Belfast co-coach Lisa Scott-Schneider. “We finally settled in and got some better play, but it was a dogfight out there. 110 minutes of play and to win or lose by a shootout is tough. Our ladies did well handling the pressure, and Ashley came up with a huge save to help us through it.”
For a team last season that had built, and seen a very promising run through the first 10 games collapse, Genesee Valley/Belfast had completely turned it around all season long in 2022 to earn their place to battle for a Sectional title this Saturday with perhaps the best defense in Allegany County left standing.
Powers says that he has been really impressed with the way that his team has been able to gel together as one cohesive unit over time, since last season.
“There’s a lot of factors that go into it, but last year we were a whole new team with the merger, still trying to get to know each other. But fast forward a year later, this group has grown very tight, and everything has been clicking,” he said. “It truly has been fun to be around them. It’s very hard to put into words, but to have it happen the way it did tonight, it’s truly special. These opportunities don’t come around often in life. Now we just have to seize the opportunity, and put our best effort out there on Saturday.”
Keshequa 1, Fillmore 0
For No. 5 Keshequa and top-seeded Fillmore, like the first battle that kicked off the entire evening in Hornell, both the Indians and Eagles would also navigate their way towards overtime after 80 minutes of hard-fought soccer reached its conclusion through regulation play.
But instead of the game being decided in free kicks, it took just seven minutes of overtime to crown a winner at the end of the long night. With Fillmore beginning to try and seize momentum from Keshequa, the Lady Indians pulled a rabbit out of the metaphorical hat, and would then proceed to record one of the most stunning wins of the season.
With around three minutes left in the first overtime session, the Lady Indians pushed the tempo into the Fillmore zone. With Preslee Miller looking to challenge the shot near the top of the 18, the Lady Indians would take advantage of a header directly aligned with the cage, as Libby Benner headed her shot directly into the wind and into the empty net to pull off an incredible victory for Keshequa to eliminate the defending Class D1 Champions in overtime with a 1-0 shutout.
“I feel really bad for our girls. It just didn’t go our way,” said Eagles coach Jon Beardsley. “We had some good moments, we never played poorly either. We just could not figure it out. That’s on me as a coach to be better for my team. Keshequa was solid everywhere, and battled toe-to-toe. I thought we had them a few times, but then something just prevented it from happening. It wasn’t because of a lack of effort or heart. The goal they scored was just on a bounce that ultimately went their way.”
Across the scoreless 80 minutes of regulation play and into overtime, both Keshequa and Fillmore (17-1) would combine to record 14 total shots on the attack, with the Lady Indians garnering the 9-5 narrow advantage at the end of the night. The chances would come on both sides, but nothing would ever work its way into the goal, forcing overtime.
In the opening sudden victory session, despite some early chances for the Lady Eagles to strike, the Lady Indians worked their way down the field on their final possession of the game, as Benner finished off the incredible victory with her head, rocketing the shot straight over the head of Miller and into the Fillmore goal with around three minutes left to play to seal up their trip to the Finals, and ending another phenomenal Lady Eagles season.
The 2022 campaign for the defending Class D1 Champions is now over, as they wrap up with a sublime record of 17-1 overall behind numerous accolades for the season again. The team will graduate six seniors at the end of the year in Malory DeRock, Madi Geertman, Kada Frazier, CeCe Schmidt, Emma Beardsley and Karmen Frazier.
“I’m really proud of our girls. I love them to death, and they make my day being able to coach them,” Beardsley said. “This hurts, the girls hurt, they feel bad they couldn’t advance and represent Fillmore girls soccer in the Finals, but it’s not the only thing that truly defines us. Too much good has happened this year for this to be the only thing that matters. Thank you to all six of my seniors, they were outstanding in so many ways for us this year. We will miss them.”