Solid possession soccer, big 2nd half defense catapults Cincinnatus towards Class D Girls’ Soccer State Title, hand Lady Eagles 1st loss of campaign on final day with 3-0 shutout; Fillmore ends memory-filled year at 21-1
PHOTOS AND STORY BY CHRIS BROOKS, managing editor, wellsvillesun.com
HOMER — For nearly three months, the Lady Eagles of Fillmore have carved a warpath from the beginning. They knew exactly what it was going to take to become the best of the best not only in Section V, but now at this stage of the season, the entire State of New York itself as well.
The program has witnessed a vast wealth of prosperity, and in the midst of it, some challenges to overcome along the way. More prominently, their hike over the Sectional Semifinal hump to climb back to the top of the Class D mountain for the second time in three seasons.
That was the direct moment in time when the pieces of the puzzle started to fall into place to create a work of soccer art.
Through everything that was thrown in their direction, the Lady Eagles conducted business on their own terms. They emerged stronger from tough challenges. They possessed the will to win. They played their brand of soccer. Because of it, Fillmore was given the same prerogative to go do what their boys soccer counterparts accomplished last season.
Perhaps the most monumental task of the entire bunch — Win it all.
After Saturday night’s colossal 4-1 win over Section X’s Lisbon, they made their grand return to Homer one last time to play for the Empire State’s top prize — the Class D State Championship, the following day. That being November 12, the last day of soccer on the Fall calendar.
It was now time to push all of their chips to the center of the table. It was now time for the Lady Eagles to give it everything they got.
(Read John Anderson’s story on an exciting semi-final win by Fillmore HERE)
Their opposition on the other hand, was Section III’s Cincinnatus — a team that is no stranger to making their presence known to the State Final Four, had plans of their own to see come into full fruition. The 21-0-1 Lady Lions, who were located a mere 30 minutes from Homer High School, were looking to complete their path towards redemption in the Finals themselves after falling to eventual champion Mount Academy in last year’s big dance.
The two foes were similarly matched, especially on the defensive side of the spectrum, where both squads allowed just nine goals combined this season (Cincinnatus – 5, Fillmore – 4). On offense, nearly 300 goals altogether found the back of the net.
As Tears For Fears once sang ever so famously: Everybody wants to rule the world.
On a chilly and overcast Sunday afternoon, it was time to crown a champion in front of a packed crowd. Through much of the early stages between Cincinnatus and Fillmore, the teams shared a fair amount of time waging war across the midfield, taking control of the possession for as long as they could.
Not many scoring chances would come right away, but it would help establish a big power shift. Nearing the midway mark of the opening half, an aperture was created. Not just an aperture, but one that potentially served as a game-changer.
For Cincinnatus, it was everything.
The Lady Lions were the first to strike, thanks to a big breakthrough on offense against Fillmore’s incredible and impenetrable defense all season long, as they came up with the icebreaking score to take the lead on the Lady Eagles at first. With a one-goal lead in hand, a much needed and early piece of insurance would come with under five minutes left in the half, helping extend the advantage to a pair.
With that in their firm possession, Cincinnatus would turn their attention to the defense, where they would buckle down from start to finish across the entire 40 minute culmination to keep Fillmore off the board completely, as the Lady Lions officially sought redemption from a year ago with a Class D State Championship of their own to complete a perfect season in regulation play while handing the Lady Eagles their very first defeat on the season’s final day with a 3-0 shutout.
“It’s the flow of the game. The mental part of the game, and I’ve talked about this since the first game of the season, it is such a monumental part of the game,” said Lady Eagles coach Jon Beardsley. “Sometimes the physical isn’t there, but that’s normal. The trap doesn’t go, the shot doesn’t go, but the mental fortitude is something you have to control. We played a great first 10, 15 minutes, and we felt like we were going to get some chances. When we gave up that first goal, it took the wind out of their sails. For whatever reason that happens, they’re human.”
The Lady Eagles (21-1) left everything they had out on the field against Cincinnatus, including a lengthy midfield battle through the first 15 minutes of play where each team battled for possession all throughout. Fillmore was able to muster a couple of scoring chances along the way, but not before the Lady Lions were able to score the game’s first marker off the aid of Cassia Schuyler.
One night removed from scoring four of the team’s six markers against Fort Ann in their State Final Four bout, Schuyler scored her fifth after making a couple of nifty maneuvers around the Lady Eagles defense to create an opening. With it, she broke free and punched home the icebreaking shot straight to the far side of the Fillmore cage for the 1-0 lead.
At that point, Fillmore now sat behind the eight-ball, as they saw Amelia Rose come up with one of the team’s best chances to tie the game up with the Lady Lions after their score, focusing a direct kick from 30 yards out straight on goal. The ball took one massive bounce off the turf and nearly garnered enough height over the Cincinnatus goalkeeper to slither its way over and into the net.
But a huge save was made soon after, as the Section III reps cleared the zone.
The possession was beginning to lean towards Cincinnatus’ direction as the first half slowly came to a close. But before it was wrapped completely, the Lady Lions would create even more room to cushion their advantage on Fillmore with Ava Larrabee’s score with under five minutes left, as she collected a fine pass from Jocelyn Turshman from her right going up the field.
The rest Larrabee went on to conduct herself, as she went wide around the Lady Eagles defense to apply another wide shot on goal that snuck its way in, extending the lead to a pair.
“They want to do so well for their team, and it’s never been about themselves,” Beardsley said. “It’s not about any personal joy, but their joy is from wanting to do so well as a team. Everything they do out on that field can impact their team. Maybe a mistake happens or the other team scores, they’re such heart-driven kids that it got them in the gut. That’s what happened in the first half. It took them too long to crawl out of that, and they ended up scoring another before halftime in that same flow. If we made it to halftime 1-0, we could have regrouped a bit. But we’ve been in games where the three good chances we’ve had, they’ve all gone in. Today, they didn’t. That’s soccer for you.”
In the second half, the focus for Cincinnatus was quickly transmogrified to their defense to put together as solid of a final 40-minute period as what their offense engineered across the first half. They kept Fillmore at a complete standstill on offense while maintaining their defensive shape, allowing some of the momentum to mutate back onto the offensive side of the field in the last minutes of play.
If there was any doubt that remained for the Lady Lions, there was none left after their third marker found the back of the net with 11 minutes remaining, as Peyton Landers rang a shot that caromed off the crossbar straight down before taking a pair of rattles off the posts and into the net to branch their lead insurmountably against the Lady Eagles.
That would allow them to use a 3-0 lead to lay claim on their Class D State Championship that awaited at the final horn, handing Fillmore their first loss of the 2023 campaign in the same swing on the season’s last day.
For Beardsley, he says that despite the gut-wrenching defeat, the amount of appreciation and care his Lady Eagles shared amongst one another across their incredible journey from beginning to end, was something special to behold.
“It’s disappointing because it’s the last game, but I’ve talked to this team so much about what the bigger picture is, and appreciation for so many good things,” the longtime Lady Eagles coach said. “If I had one last thing to say, it’s just a group of kids that get it. When I mean that, they feel for each other. They care so much about each other, and that’s not normal for today’s world that we live in. There’s a lot of self-consuming, and they get that everyone has weaknesses, and things that might bother us about each other. But also, so many good things that we love about one another. That’s been the greatest part about this team, especially right at mid-season and peaking these last couple of weeks. If you can pull all that together, it makes taking a loss a bit easier.”
When it was all said and done, Cincinnatus went on to outshoot Fillmore by a 12-8 count on the attack. In goal, Preslee Miller went on to make nine saves in between the posts for the Lady Eagles in what would be her final game donning her school colors on the pitch after an incredible season that saw her post a school-record 17 shutouts to front the team’s impeccable defense.
The magical, memory-filled ride has reached its complete conclusion. The Lady Eagles of Fillmore, in what was one of, if not, their best season of soccer to date, wrapped up a campaign that saw numerous records being smashed every single step of the way, as they finished with a record of 21-1 overall.
At the end of the school year, the team will say goodbye to nine incredible senior standouts that helped Fillmore establish themselves as one of Section V’s perennial powerhouses on the pitch, each and every Fall. Along with their leader between the posts in Miller, the team will also bid farewell to two generational talents — the Russell sisters, Hope and Grace, who have sent shockwaves in every direction, every time they were able to step foot onto the field.
Behind what was a masterful encore performance this season alone, Hope went on and broke the school record for most goals in a single season, which will now stand at 71 total after her pair of goals in the team’s 4-1 win over Lisbon in the previous round.
As for Grace, she helped lay the foundation down in every way possible on the front line alongside her sister, recording well over 100 career assists since her arrival to the Varsity program to help propel the Lady Eagles offense even further.
The two siblings will join Miller, Rachel Hatch, Amelia Rose, Allie Mills, Kylee Ellsworth, Oakley Frazier and Delaney Hillman for Graduation, when it arrives in full this June.
While holding back tears, Beardsley described the passion, the drive and the pride that his Lady Eagles team possessed since the very beginning of their journey. Three incredible perks that have allowed them to author the season of a lifetime. One that everyone involved, especially his nine senior leaders, will continue to look back on as time goes on.
A group that he will miss dearly. But more importantly, a group that he will always call family.
“Every day, they’re so worried about letting someone down. It’s a driven mentality. They were so driven since day one when they lost to Keshequa. It’s impressive, but it also makes things hurt a lot,” he said. “Nine seniors, nine starters. Soccer wise, I will have to say goodbye to. But they’re a part of my family, and Fillmore’s soccer family. It’s what we take pride in. We are obviously going to miss every single one of them at practice next year. There isn’t a better group of kids that you can really ask for, and everytime we get together, it becomes the best part of my day. It truly does. There will be times when I get out there and I’m having a bad day, and I immediately just feel better being around them. The seniors especially, their impact this year and the last five years is tremendous, but it’s going to last much longer into the future. I will miss them.”
Beardsley also extended his overwhelming gratitude for all of the support that he and his Lady Eagles have gotten not only from back home, but across Allegany County and the surrounding area itself during their trip to the State Finals, saying that “Myself and the team want to thank everyone near and far that have supported us from the beginning. We have received so many kind words from so many. We appreciate everyone coming out to Cortland, and all the support we’ve gotten all year. We can’t thank everyone enough. We hope we made Fillmore and Allegany County proud.”