Lady Spartans corner second state title in four years
Tiffany Cioppi fed Nikki Atkins on a penalty corner with 49 seconds remaining to lift the Lady Spartans (21-0) to a 1-0 win over Section I’s Mamaroneck in the Class A state final on Saturday at Cicero-North Syracuse High School. It was North’s second state title in four years. The Lady Spartans beat Section I’s Lakeland, 2-1, in 2007.
“I didn’t see the goal,” said La- Paglia. “I turned, walked away and listened for the noise [ball hitting the back of the net]. I had a good feeling that they were going to make it happen and score that clutch goal.”
“Our corners were not great,” she said. “We had the opportunities to shoot but we were just not getting good shots off or waiting too long to take the shot and letting the other team defend us right away. On the last one, from what I’ve been told, Nikki hesitated but instead of aiming for the near post, nailed the right side of the goal and it was wide open. It was a rocket of a shot.”
LaPaglia said her team has been working on penalty corners.
“That is one thing you want working for your team is your penalty corners,” said LaPaglia. “A lot of times at this level it does come down as a deciding factor, so special teams is huge at this time of the year.”
Mamaroneck drew a penalty corner with eight seconds left but North goalie Jess Wess made a split to make the save with her left pad and cleared the ball 30 yards down the sideline to secure the victory.
Wess finished with eight saves, giving her 17 shutouts for the season. She set a school record by allowing only three goals for the entire season. The old school record was four set in the 2007 championship year.
“She was so excited after the game,” said LaPaglia. “I have never seen her more focused.”
North advanced to the state final for the fourth time since 2003 after beating Section IX’s Ward Melville, 1-0, in overtime on Saturday. It was the third time in four years that North faced Ward Melville, beating them, 3-0, in the semifinals in 2007 and losing, 2-0, in the 2008 final.
“The girls played their best game of the year,” said LaPaglia. “I knew coming in Ward Melville was going to be good. They have a player on the U19 national team, Abby Beltrani. Typically what I am finding with some of these teams that have these high profile players is that those teams solely rely on those kids to carry their team. That’s not the philosophy of North field hockey at all. We look for balance so that everybody is contributing. Emily Woods, Emily Koestler, Ashley Favata, Elena Hingston, all the way back to the defensive line, really did a fabulous job of shutting her down. It was like seven on one out there. Add in the forwards for probably having their best game of the season with cutting and what they were doing to create space and open up shooting lanes and it was just a great game.”
Woods scored the game-winning goal from Atkins on a penalty corner 2.5 minutes into overtime.
“Tiffany [Cioppi] inserted the ball and Nikki did not have the shot and she kicked it over to Emily and Emily drew the goalie over to her right and hit the far left side of the cage on a beautiful, hard push pass,” said LaPaglia.
Wess made three saves to record the shutout.
“In the first five minutes of the game, Ward Melville had us on our heels,” said LaPaglia. “They got a corner and Abby Beltrani has an unbelievable shot on corners and Jess made a spectacular save. I think that turned the tide and got the kids so fired up that they took it from there. After that, we shut them down to the point where they weren’t even coming close to getting any scoring chances.”
Atkins, Cioppi and Koestler were named to the all-state tournament team. Lainey Materise was named to the all-state sportsmanship team.
North’s championship is even more impressive considering the team had played all season without the team’s best player, Allie Ahern, who had suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her surgically repaired right knee over the summer at the Empire State Games.
“This group of kids is so special,” said LaPaglia. “I’m proud of them for what they’ve done this year. They wanted it for each other. With one of their leaders down and out, they believed that they could do it. It was so emotional because I know they wanted it so bad and to have them accomplish it, it’s magnificent.”
Eight seniors graduate — Favata, Woods, Cioppi, Atkins, Wess, Ashley Fillmore, Michelle Rowekamp and Rachel Attea. Seven are starters.
Atkins led the team with 27 goals and 13 assists. Woods had 20 goals and 30 assists. Cioppi added nine goals and four assists.
North will also take their game to the college level. Ahern will play at Michigan State, Favata and Fillmore will both play at Geneseo, Atkins will play at Brockport State College, Woods has verbally committed to Lockhaven University, and Cioppi has verbally committed to Central Michigan.
Atkins, Woods, Koestler, Hingston, Cioppi, Materise, Caitlin Dwyer and Alayna Wageman will be playing for the Knuckleheads club field hockey team at the national hockey festival this week in Phoenix, Ariz. Joining them will be Williamsville South’s Ali Ferenczy and Mia Martin, Lancaster’s Alaina Mercado, Alyssa Jerge, Jami Alexander, and Jess Geary and Nichols’ Shannon Martin and Alyssa Faso.