The Canajoharie and Oppenheim-Ephratah/St. Johnsville girls soccer teams have rolled through the Section II postseason and today will play for championships in their respective classifications.
Top-seeded OESJ (14-3-1) will play No. 2 Fort Ann (11-2-0) at 2:30 p.m. today at Stillwater High School for the Section II Class D championship, while No. 3 Canajoharie (16-3) also will be at Stillwater to take on No. 4 Waterford-Halfmoon (17-1-1) at 4:30 p.m. for the Class C title.
For Canajoharie, today's match marks a new high point for the Lady Cougars' program.
Oppenheim-Ephratah/St. Johnsville’s Rylie Smith (12) dribbles past a Salem defender during a Section II Class D quarterfinal contest on Oct. 26. (The Leader-Herald/Paul Wager)
Canajoharie’s Hannah Smith (1) dribbles past a Hadley-Luzerne defender during a Section II Class C first-round contest on Oct. 24. (The Leader-Herald/Paul Wager)
"There is no plaque on the wall, so I don't know if they ever got this far in girls soccer," Canajoharie coach Ellee Fichthorn said. "I do know that in my time here they haven't been to even a semifinal game. There was a group back in the 1970s that went undefeated 12-0 in the Tri-Valley League, but I don't know if there were sectionals for girls at that time."
The Lady Cougars have posted five straight shutouts, three of which have come in sectional play, while outscoring their opponents 17-0 in the postseason.
Jenelle Dillenbeck has led the postseason scoring with nine goals, including the game-winner against Hoosic Valley in the semis, to bring her season's total to 41. Jordyn Logan upped her season total to 15 with three postseason goals and Morgan Koelbl added one to put her total at 12.
Section II Class D Championship (at Stillwater)
Oppenheim-Ephratah/St. Johnsville vs. Fort Ann, 2:30 p.m.
Section II Class C Championship (at Stillwater)
Canajoharie vs. Waterford-Halfmoon, 4:30 p.m.
The Canajoharie defense, anchored by goalkeeper Lauren Balfe, has posted nine shutouts on the season.
"I think our defense talks well and plays as a unit," Fichthorn said. "I don't like to sub a lot in my defense because those four [Bri Slater, Dainara Veeder, Hannah Bowerman and Paige Sutherland] play so well together back there. They talk and cover each other. I am hoping that going into this game that our defense will be on point."
The Lady Cougars have been on a mission all season after being upset 1-0 as the fourth-seed in the opening round of sectional play last season by No. 13 Schoharie.
"It stung last year, but I think it was one of the best things that could have happened to our team because it made us so hungry to just want to go out and get better," Fichthorn said. "They have worked so hard day-in and day-out. I am so proud of them."
After missing sectional play two years ago and reaching the Class D semifinals last year, Oppenheim-Ephratah/St. Johnsville has fought its way into today's championship match against 2012 finalist Fort Ann.
"They are going to have to want it more than we do and I really don't know of any teams out there that want it more than we do," OESJ coach Zale Benton said. "My kids are really focused right now. I watched them [Fort Ann] the other day and they are a lot like us but our league is different than theirs. They are good and both teams are in it to win it now. It is going to come down to who plays the best on the turf. We have been practicing some on turf here and there, and for the past two summers a lot of our kids have played together on the turf, so they know how to play on it, which is huge."
Although Fort Ann reached the Class D title game last year, it has not won a sectional title. In 2000 the St. Johnsville Lady Saints won the Class D state championship.
Now the Oppenheim-Ephratah/St. Johnsville Lady Wolves are making their own history.
"They are great kids with great work ethics," Benton said. "The kids have been very unselfish. They have not complained about me moving them around to find the right combination. I have taken a couple of kids who were strikers and midfielders in the past and moved them to the backfield to make it strong. Our offense is so solid that you can't just mark one kid. We have five or six players who can score. You shut one kid down and you have four or five more you have to worry about. That is a huge advantage."
Jessi Hagadorn has led the Lady Wolves with 14 goals this season, while Tabea Salzmann has 11, Rylie Smith nine and Addie Brundage, Abby Mosher and Skyler Viveros each have six.
"We are actually pretty young," Benton said. "The key to this team is that the young players have come up through and stayed together. They started when they were young in what is the equivalent of Fulton United out here and they have had good coaches along the way. Some of them have traveled with the older kids since they were in seventh grade. They have played on the turf out at Herkimer with the older kids during the summer. When they came up to varsity in ninth and tenth grade they had played a lot of soccer with the upperclassmen so we didn't have to break a bunch of new kids in. They have all pretty much jelled together for the past couple of years."
The winner of today's Class D match will travel to play Section IX champion Eldred on Saturday.