Eldred Defends Its Section IX Girls Soccer Title With A Shut Out Of Gritty Livingston Manor As Eldred Now Heads Back Into State Contention
Section IX Class D Girls Soccer Championship
Eldred 2, Livingston Manor 0
By RICHARD A. ROSS
Photos at www.sportsinsights.smugmug.com
MIDDLETOWN, NY—There are no gimmes when it comes to postseason play.
So for the Eldred Lady Yellow Jackets having to deal yet again with a hungry, talented Livingston Manor Lady Wildcat contingent was something that had Eldred Coach J.J. Gass feeling nervous and his team feeling a bit tight.
Eldred beat Manor twice this season but the affable Yellow Jackets’ Coach and his talented Lady Bees knew this wasn’t going to be a walkover.
“I can feel it in the pit of my stomach,” Gass told me prior the game.
A year ago at 8-8 in the regular season, Eldred slipped into the Section IX title game completely under the radar. Manor had many more wins but it was Eldred that prevailed 3-2 for the title. That began a whirlwind tour that landed Eldred in the state Final Four.
By the time the dust had cleared on Eldred’s magical state run that ended with a semifinal loss to Poland, Eldred had become a banner storyline.
Though they were remarkably young and inexperienced, it was clear they were loaded with talent and spirit. This year they figured to be even better.
Gass brought back almost his entire team including sophomore strikers Lynzee Kelty and Jordan Lepes, ranked first and fifth in Section IX in scoring this season. With an immensely talented keeper in Jenna Burns and a backline defender in senior Savanah Finck who may be one of the best players this writer has seen in getting to the ball and neutralizing an opposing team’s biggest scoring threat, Eldred seems built to make as much or more noise than last year.
Factor in a staunch group of defenders who are in prime condition and are hungry to get back to the big dance and it might be a strong elixir in regional play. But first you’d have to get by Manor
Manor matched up very well with Eldred during the year. It took overtime for Eldred to best Manor 3-1 the first time around. The second fray was a tightly –contested 2-0 victory.
Of course there’s the old adage, “It’s hard to beat a team three times,.” The Lady Wildcats replete with their own dynamic duo up front in Annaliese Gorr and Fern Mills were hoping to upset the apple cart and knock off the favored ladies in white and green.
Eldred’s two final games of the season against Chapel Field and Sullivan West were hardly the kind of edge-sharpening Gass would have liked as a run up the title game. But at least the postponed tilt under the lights with the Lady Bulldogs gave Eldred a game in lieu of an overly long hiatus before the championship encounter at Faller Field.
Looking at their overall records during the season would offer no clue to their parity. Eldred came in with 13 wins; Manor with a scant few.
But regular season records go out the window once that whistle blows and a playoff game begins.
Eldred wasted no time in evincing its agenda: attack, attack, attack.
In less than a minute Kelty fired off her opening salvo which sailed over the cage but the gauntlet had been thrown down. The teams would play fairly even in the first half but the difference-maker was a Kelty corner kick that found Lepes in front of the goal. Kelty, an all-year round soccer phenom practies corner kicks relentlessly and this one was a beauty though it seemed just a bit out of reach for Lepes.
But not quite
Instinctively Lepes veered the ball off the back of her head. Thus it swirled towards the far inside post for the goal at 35:16. That first goal was huge psychologically. For Eldred it allowed the team to play their game without the mental what if’s? For Manor, that goal stung. Eldred’s defense being what it is, you don’t want to play uphill.
Eldred held a 1-0 lead at the break and the game was really still up for grabs. With all of the recent losses in Section IX through penalty kicks, the last thing Gass wanted was to have the game come down to that unpredictable deciding factor.
He needn’t have worried.
As big as that first goal was, the second one was the killer.
Kelty picked up a ball along the right sideline, and though she lost it for an instant she quickly got it right back. A gorgeous cross found Lepes who chested it, grounded it and sent it across to Sheila Burns who took aim and fired it past Manor keeper Tara Roser at 24;52 of the second half.
While Manor had kept pace in the first period, fatigue began to factor in. They continued to play hard but they had precious few chances. Burns would be called upon to register a mere five saves by game’s end. Roser had nine.
With Gorr playing on the same side as Finck, it seemed as if her every move was checked. When Manor did get a ball through, Eldred repulsed it with authority. The result was that in the second half the ball lived mostly in the Manor end.
Manor Coach Jen Gorr characterized the game as “hard-fought.” She agreed that fatigue came into play later in the game. “They’re faster than us and trying to get around those strong defenders took a lot out of us,” she averred. “It was a really good season. We played hard and we’re going to continue to do that every year.”
Gass talked about the keys to the game:
“Our defense played fantastic. Savanah Finck was a monster back there. She played aggressive and beat the other girls to the ball. Our midfield played well. We were a little tight at the beginning. It was a big game and being tight is normal. You have to get past that first five minutes.”
He went on to add:
“Manor and Eldred match up very well. There’s a long history between the two schools. They played great. This could have gone either way,” he observed. ”This was a big game. They’re a quality team. They showed that in their win over Coleman and they showed it against us all year.”
Elaborating further he noted, “In the second half we dominated play. Our girls always say we’re a second half team with our fine conditioning.” Gass refrenced the rivalry. “No matter what’s going on in any year when Eldred and Manor play it’s always going to be something.”
Talking about Kelty and Lepes Gass noted, ”They’re both so fast and talented and the fact that they’re only sophomores blows people’s minds. Kelty is the leading scorer in Section IX and Lepes is fifth. The pieces are in place for us to be good for awhile. The fact that we’re being successful with much of our team being in tenth grade with some in ninth and 11ths bodes well for the future.”
Gass admits last year’s road to the Final Four was a great unknown. “We didn’t know what to expect. Eldred hadn’t been there in 30 years.. This year’s team is much more experienced. Our passing and communication and knowing where the other person is going to be, those things are a product of another season of playing together. Trust is the main issue that many teams struggle with but we returned so many players that trust was never an issue,” he noted.
“Our goal is to get back to the Final Four but when you hit regionals you never know what you’re going to face. We could be facing the team that is going to win the state. Hopefully we can come out on top,” he concluded.
Gass noted that the next stop will be up in Albany as there is no qualifying Long Island team. That game is the Regional Final and the winner will advance to the Final Four.
Kelty credited her team’s defense. “Savanah was unstoppable. This feels great,” she said taking it all in. She admitted to being very nervous at the outset. “They match up well with us and they wanted it. But in the end the team that wanted it more would win,” she offered.
Eldred improved to 14-2-1.
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