Unatego’s girls soccer season has been all about control.
Whether the Spartans keep it or lose it will be determined Saturday, when the undefeated Section Four champions play a Class C state quarterfinal against Section Three winner Sauquoit Valley at Fulton High.
“They play a very different game than us,” Unatego coach Sue Herodes said of Sauquoit Valley, a 17-2-1 team that played Cooperstown to a scoreless tie in the championship game of the SV Tournament on Oct. 20. “They are a long-ball team. They have very good ball-control skills. They’re very quick. We have some speed up front, but it’s all around for them. That’s the one thing that worries me.
“We play a lot more of a control game,” she continued. “We’re not a kick-and-run team. We try to move the ball more. Definitely, we have been really successful at it this season.”
Midstate Athletic Conference champion Unatego will take an 18-0-1 record and the state’s No. 4 ranking in Class C into Saturday’s 1 p.m. quarterfinal against the Indians, who are ranked 10th. Senior forward Elisa Marchione leads SV with 28 goals and 12 assists this season.
“Everything goes through her,” Herodes said. “She’s very active in the midfield and on top. She is very good.
“They play almost everything up the middle,” she continued, “but we are very strong up the middle.”
A lot of that has to do with senior midfielder Katrina Clark, a potent scorer and a shut-down defender who will start Saturday’s game marking Marchione.
“She is an excellent marking player, no question about it,” Herodes said of Clark, who has 26 points — on 10 goals and six assists — and has been a major part of Unatego’s 17 shutouts. “I believe she will be able to keep (Marchione) out of her game. We’ll start that way and see how the defense adjusts to them.
“They play three players on the front line, which is different from what we are used to seeing,” Herodes continued. “Not too many teams play that way in the MAC, so we’ll have to see how it goes.”
Herodes said she is not as concerned with how the Indians will deal with senior forward Sarah Mannina, who has area-highs of 60 points and 24 goals and ranks second in assists with 12.
“Sarah does a great job, but all season we have not relied on one person,” said Herodes, whose team also features offensive threats in Juli Carbone (32 points), Tanner Reed (21), Torri Halaquist (19), Casey Manzanero (15) and Mariah Scott (12). “I think it’s definitely to our advantage. We have a lot of kids with 10 goals. If they mark her, so be it. Sarah is very good not just at scoring but at making things happen for our other players.”
Herodes said she has watched the Indians play three times this season, and SV won all three of those games — 3-1 over South Lewis in their sectional opener Oct. 25; 2-1 over Tully in Monday’s Section Three Class C-1 final; and 1-0 over Manlius-Pebble Hill in Wednesday’s overall Class C sectional title game.
“I did keep my eye on them,” Herodes said. “I had a feeling it was going to be them.”
SV has a distinct advantage heading into Saturday’s game as the Indians have won three Section Three crowns in the last four seasons. Unatego beat Elmira Notre Dame, 1-0, in the Section Four final Nov. 2 to earn its first state-tournament berth since 1996.
“I’m not too worried about that,” said Herodes, whose program fell, 3-0, to Syracuse CBA in a 1996 state quarterfinal. “They have a lot of young players, actually. Only a few of them have gone through this before.”
Senior goalie Alyson Gaffney is one of those veterans, though, and Herodes said she is impressive between the posts.
“She had a very solid performance (Wednesday),” Herodes said. “She made a save late in the game that I don’t know how she made. The other girl shot it to the upper-90 and she got her finger on it and knocked it out. That made the game right there.”
The Spartans will counter with goalie Robin Foster, who has allowed three goals this season. Two of those came in an 8-2 sectional semifinal rout of Greene on Oct. 27. Schoharie scored the other in a 4-1 loss to the host Spartans in the championship game of the Kyle Sharpe Tournament on Sept. 15.
Unatego’s unbeaten record includes a scoreless tie against Seton Catholic Central of the Southern Tier Athletic Conference on Sept. 29. Seton fell, 4-0 in overtime, to STAC rival Oneonta High in the Section Four Class B championship game Nov. 2.
In addition to their tie with Cooperstown, the Indians dropped their Sept. 5 season opener, 3-1, at Clinton and lost, 2-1, at Mount Markham on Oct. 11.
Herodes said she is optimistic about her team’s chances to advance to a state semifinal at noon Nov. 17 at Cortland High. The winner of that semifinal will play for the state championship at 11 a.m. Nov. 18 at Cortland State.
“I think it is going to be a very even ballgame,” she said of Saturday’s quarterfinal. “It should be a lot of fun, but it will be a battle. The kids are excited and I’m excited. We’re healthy, which is a plus, and we’re ready.”