Top-seeded Lady Eagles dominate behind Russell’s quartet of goals, stellar defense to seize 3rd Section V title in 5 years in 4-0 shutout of No. 2 Northstar; will face North Collins in Far West next
Photos and story by CHRIS BROOKS, managing editor, wellsvillesports.com
WARSAW — Entering Sectionals, there was a tremendous weight that rested solely upon the shoulders of the Fillmore Lady Eagles.
Not just any kind of weight, but the kind of weight that continued to linger after every passing second.
Although another undefeated regular season helped them capture Class D’s top seed, head coach Jon Beardsley admitted before the team’s Semifinal clash with No. 5 Marion, that his team was a bit nervous after the events that transpired at that stage last Fall against Keshequa.
But ever since they came out on top of that meeting with the Lady Black Knights back on Wednesday, they began to feel a sense of overwhelming relief.
They were now suddenly free from the weight of last season’s past, leaving it as far behind in the rearview mirror as possible. Now, the Lady Eagles could set their sights on the one thing they wanted to get their hands on — a Section V Championship.
As the rest of the week progressed forward, Beardsley could tell. His team was focused and his team was more than ready for what challenges they were tasked with next, upon the horizon.
“It was hard mentally for us. But as the week went on, I saw a different demeanor from the girls after the Marion game,” he said. “Teams have made life difficult for us, but when you have a program filled with great players, it makes things easier. This group of seniors in particular, have been phenomenal not only as soccer players, but they care so much about representing Fillmore. They care what their coach thinks, they don’t want to disappoint people. They loved being the ball girl, the modified player, the role player, they loved being everything leading up to this, and they’ve set such a great example.”
And so the stage was set, Fillmore was now a stone’s throw away from bringing out the brooms on a complete sweep of the Class D playoffs after the boys team got the job done in thrilling fashion over Naples the previous night in Avon. All they had to do was clear their final obstacle that separated them from glory once again — No. 2 Northstar, a team that would place them in a similar situation just like their Semifinal battle against Marion.
The Lady Eagles fought the midfield fight with the Lady Knights for much of the half, taking control of everything they saw while applying every bit of pressure they could to keep their second-seeded opposition well on their feet. Northstar was able to resist nearly an entire half’s worth of tension against them, but in the late stages of it, the rumbling in the Lady Knights zone increased in magnitude greatly.
Then, Hope Russell would become the earthquake.
With close to four minutes remaining and spanning into the first 10 minutes of the second half, the Fillmore senior caught fire, as she scored not one, not two or three, but all four of the team’s goals — three of them in the second half to take a 1-0 lead over Northstar and turn it into a permanent and insurmountable advantage.
That, along with a flawless defensive stand, kept the Lady Eagles out in front, as they cruised their way towards a third Section V title in the last five years by way of a 4-0 shutout of the Lady Knights in the Class D Finals in Warsaw.
“We’re glad Hope is on our team, and we say that a lot on the sideline. Scoring goals is really difficult, and she just knows how to do it,” Beardsley said of Russell. “Right now, she’s dealing with some things physically and she scores four goals tonight. She is just a special, generational player. If you would have asked me five, 10, 20 years ago if we would have another player like Casandra Mills come around, I would have said not a chance. Guess what? She knows how to do that.”
The damage was done after Fillmore (19-0) mustered multiple chances against Northstar all throughout the opening half, applying it to their offensive crescendo. In the same swing, the Lady Eagles defense kept the Lady Knights pinned deep in their own zone to keep the pressure piled up against them, firing any attempted clears back down the field.
Things would soon reach a boiling point towards the end of the half, when the Lady Eagles finally capitalized with their first marker of the game from Russell, connecting with the ball after a series of passes around the top of the Northstar box. With possession, she took one good look in front and drilled it home for the 1-0 lead going into the half.
There were times in the first 40 minutes where the top seeds were starting to feel a little bit of pressure themselves on a few clears down the field from Northstar. But each time, a resilient Lady Eagles defense counteracted strongly by erasing any momentum the Lady Knights were starting to build.
“Grace (Russell) runs all around the midfield doing what she does best to help everyone get set up, and she is just as special of a player as Hope is,” Beardsley said. “She’s the cog in the machine, and you have that along with the defense led by Amelia (Rose), Kylee (Ellsworth) and of course Rachel (Hatch). We’ve given up three goals all year, and there are times where we freak out when the ball is on our defensive third, and then we remember who we have back there with Preslee (Miller). It’s that little reminder that things will be okay in big games like this.”
Fillmore was indeed going to be okay. Why? — Just ask No. 2 on the field.
Right out of the gate in the second half, the Lady Eagles simply picked up where they left off, bulldozing their way back into the Northstar zone with three more tallies in the first 10 minutes, all from Russell, with her first of the half and second of the game coming off a carry-in by Delaney Hillman, handing off a pass alongside to her fellow senior to bury it home to the far side for the 2-0 lead right away.
Fillmore began to cook even more with Russell completing her hat trick — one of many she has had this season for the high octane Lady Eagles offense, as she fired a shot straight to the top shelf with 33:08 left to go. Nearly over three minutes later, she finished off the scoring with her fourth of the game behind a pass from Amelia Rose from the back, marching in on the Northstar goal before letting another shot fly to the far post to give them more than enough room to work with.
“One of things I always say is to work smarter, not harder sometimes,” said Beardsley. “They always work hard, and sometimes they forget to work smart and use the talents they have. They were playing a little frantic offensively, and they just needed to be more sophisticated and actually slow it down a little bit. Northstar was hounding us so much in the first half, we actually needed to be more calm with what we were doing. They worked their butts off running wherever we went. But when it opened up, it really opened up.”
Nearly 15 minutes left in the half and a four-goal lead all remaining intact, the bulk of the starters for the Lady Eagles began to file off the field one by one. Each of them, greeted by an amassment of hugs and high-fives from their teammates and coaches as soon as they got to the sidelines, knowing that their climb up the Section V mountain was nearing completion.
When the final horn sounded, a flawless performance across the board by the top seeds was rewarded with their third Section V Championship in five years. Something that Beardsley felt was supposed to happen.
“This is a new feeling every time,” he said. “Some of the kids have been part of it, but there’s no old to do something that’s really hard. We certainly had it as our goal, and this is probably the first time where I felt like this was a team where this was supposed to happen. Not that we haven’t been favorites before in the past, but in a way, we felt like this was supposed to happen. That’s something that can be daunting, and at times, it has put a lot of pressure on them. They fought through it, and really rose to the occasion. The talent they possess speaks for itself.”
The four Russell goals propelling the Fillmore offense towards ultimate victory came off 15 total shots they applied against Northstar through the course of the game, as they went on to outshoot the Lady Knights by a dominant 15-2 margin — both shots by the Lady Knights were set aside by Preslee Miller, who has been unstoppable all season long in between the posts, collecting her 16th team shutout of the season.
With the Class D Championship now heading back home and into the school’s trophy showcase, the Lady Eagles of Fillmore have now advanced directly into the Class D Far West Regional, which will occupy the confines of Caledonia-Mumford next weekend.
They will face Section VI, Class D champion North Collins, who upset Ellicottville, in a 2 p.m. first kick next Saturday afternoon with a chance to advance towards the State Final Four in Cortland now on the line.