By Allison Collins
OTEGO – The Unatego Lady Spartans are headed to the regional quarterfinals following a 2-1 win for the Section IV Class C title Monday. The Spartans, previously No. 2, beat out top-ranked Groton.
The 21-person team will face Section III champs Little Falls Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Herkimer.
Unatego lost 5-1 to Little Falls during the Schoharie Tournament, held Sept. 29.
Longtime Unatego girls’ soccer coach Sue Herodes said her players, though young, welcome the rematch.
“We’re all excited that we have another chance to play them,” she said. “When we played them earlier in the year, we didn’t have a full team, Meghan (Perry) was hurt and the field conditions were absolutely horrible.”
“We’re all excited,” Perry, a 15-year-old sophomore and the Spartan goalkeeper, echoed. “We’re ready to play this time and we feel like we have a better chance. We’re going into this game with a good mindset.”
Herodes, in her 29th year with the district, attributed the Spartans’ readiness to mental prowess honed all season long.
“This team’s youngness is definitely a factor,” Herodes said, noting that players span eighth through 12th grade, with the majority in their freshman and sophomore years. “Other years that we made it to sectionals, we were a senior-loaded team, so for these kids, being able to get focused – with mental preparation before the game and mental control during the game—is something we’ve worked on and they’ve really blossomed with that.”
“That was evident the other night,” she added. “It was a physical game and they stayed composed.”
Reflective of that increased focus, Herodes noted, the Spartans’ on-field style of play has also evolved.
“We’re not playing the same way we were when (Little Falls) saw us earlier in the year,” she said. “We’re playing with a lot more confidence and … these girls are hungry. (Little Falls) is the one with something to prove.”
“I have a lot of faith in this kid standing next to me,” Herodes said, referencing Perry, who, after just three years on the team, holds the school record for career shutouts. “She’s going to do well in goal, we’ve got good defense supporting her and, offensively, we’re making attacks.”
“I’m proud to say that we’ve come this far,” Perry added, “and if we play the way I know we can, then we can go even farther.”
Buoying the team forward, Herodes said, has been “overwhelming” support.
“The community response and pride has just been so nice to see,” she said. “Being a little town … the school spirit that came out on Monday night was overwhelming it was awesome.”
Friday’s 7:30 game will take place at Herkimer County Community College. Unatego is providing transport via a spectator bus; call 988-5000 or find “Unatego Central School District” on Facebook for more information.