ELLENBURG — When the Northern Adirondack girls’ soccer players were grumbling about the damp, chilly weather earlier this season, coach Sharon Relation told them, “Good teams play in the snow.”
It was just something she said to stop the complaints, and later they joked about it.
But there they were Wednesday, practicing in 27-degree weather with patches of snow on the field.
And there was no complaining. Relation said she kept checking to see how they were doing in the bitter cold, “and they’re like, ‘No, no, this is good.’”
Good, because the Bobcats are one of just four Class C teams whose season is still going on. Northern Adirondack (15-3-2) will face Holland in the NYSPHSAA Class C semifinals Saturday morning at Cortland High School. Haldane and Lansing will meet in Saturday’s other game, and the state championship will be decided Sunday.
The Bobcats, ranked fourth in Class C, defeated Section II’s Canajoharie in the regional finals last week.
“We’ve already made it this far, and it’s a great accomplishment. But we know we can achieve more,” senior Elle Warick said. “And we’re all going to work together and work hard, and we have a focus. We’re going there with a purpose.”
Warick is Northern Adirondack’s points leader with 19 goals and 11 assists, and junior Rachael Venne (20 goals, seven assists) is the other top scoring threat. Warick said the two feed off each other. But she also said the team’s success starts in the back.
“We wouldn’t be able to do that if it wasn’t for our defense,” Warick said. “Our defense, seriously, have played amazing. We call them the Diamond D. They just work so well together. They’re our backbone back there.”
Goalkeeper Anna Lashway, a junior, said the players charged with keeping the ball out of the Bobcats’ net have become a “little family,” and they’ve learned how to work together and recognize each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
The key has been communicating on the field.
“Just talking. Verbally helping each other out,” Lashway said, adding that “when someone gets beat, we are helping each other out by filling in their position.
“But mostly, it’s just we definitely talk a lot, and that’s what gets us through. Even if a goal is scored, we regroup together. Our whole entire defense gets together; we do a little ritual bonding thing. And we get back out there, and we go as hard as we can.”
Lashway has recorded 6.5 shutouts this season. The Bobcats have allowed 18 goals — just four in their four playoff games — and just two opponents have scored more than two in a game.
Relation said sophomore Alexis Boulrice and junior Magan Magee are often responsible for the opponent’s top scorers, but everyone has a job to do. And sometimes it’s a thankless job.
“A lot of time, the defense, they get noticed, but they’re not the headliners,” Relation said. “And that’s a tough job to play.”
Lashway added that the players in the back are proud of their accomplishments even if they don’t get recognition.
“It definitely is something big when we are able to keep a team out from our half,” Lashway said. “Whether it’s recorded or not, we all know we worked as hard as we could to be able to do what we did.”
The defense may have its work cut out for it Saturday. Holland’s leading scorer, sophomore midfielder Olivia Schmidt, has tallied 45 goals and picked up 21 assists. Fellow sophomore Molly Zientek has added 21 goals and eight assists.
The second-ranked Dutchmen (17-1-1) also do a good job in the back end, allowing just 11 goals. They’ve posted 12 shutouts, and keeper Haley Hymers has stopped 89 percent of the shots she faced.
Holland, from Section VI, defeated Keshequa 3-2 in overtime last week to reach the final four. The Dutchmen have outscored their four opponents 17-4 in the playoffs.
Warick and Lashway said the Bobcats have been receiving tons of support at school and can hardly wait to head to Cortland. Lashway even admitted she has caught herself thinking about the final four when she’s supposed to be doing schoolwork.
Their coach said the players don’t seem to be overwhelmed by all the hoopla.
“I’m amazed at how well they’re handling it thus far,” Relation said. “There’s like this calmness sometimes I see in them, and it’s like, ‘Wow.’”
No Northern Adirondack girls’ soccer team had ever reached the state semifinals before, and it had been six years since the Bobcats had claimed a Section VII title. Relation has tried to instill belief in her team all season, and Lashway said the players have gradually found it.
“We definitely have. There has been a bumpy road along the way, but we all know that we’ve come this far by working together and we deserve to be here from all the hard work we’ve put in,” Lashway said. “We have a mind-set that we can bring everything home.”
Email Courtney Lewis:firstname.lastname@example.org