Most of the players have been on the big stage before, though it’s involved 60-foot bases instead of a 120-yard field.
So the experience will be both alien and familiar when Fort Ann heads to the state girls soccer final four this weekend in the Cortland area. The Cardinals meet Parishville-Hopkinton in the semifinals Saturday morning, with the state championship game scheduled for the following day.
Fort Ann has always been a softball power, having won the past eight Section II titles and the 2018 state championship. In girls soccer, the Cards had good seasons over the past decade but couldn’t get over the hump of winning the sectional final.
That’s behind them now. During the playoffs, the Cards have come up with the big goals and the big wins to become a state-level soccer program.
“There was definitely something different this year,” senior Kayla Bailey said. “We connected a lot more than we have the past couple of years, but I never knew that we would get this far.”
The Cards (14-3-3) began the season knowing they had the pieces to have a good season — specifically, seven seniors and two talented forwards. It took a little time for everything to come together, however.
Junior Sarah Paige is the big gun up front, with 45 goals this season and 139 for her career. Senior Amanda Godfrey has been just as important, with 23 goals and 25 assists.
But the Cards have gotten lots of goals from other players, including 13 from senior Kylah Lindgren.
“Kylah’s the X factor,” coach Jason Humiston said. “You can’t just take away Sarah and Amanda. Kylah’s really stepped up and finished her shots. She’s as deadly up front as everybody else.”
Defense was an area the Cardinals had to work on, especially after the graduation of longtime goalie Renee Allen. Faith Lehoisky took over between the posts while Natalie VanKirk, Kate Jackson, Becky Ostrander and Allison Keith became the main defenders.
The Cards have turned in nine shutouts this season, including the sectional and regional finals.
“We probably thought the defense was a question,” Humiston said. “Could we stop them enough from scoring enough? And we have.”
The Cards finished second to Lake George in the Adirondack League. They lost to the Warriors 4-0 midway through the season and tied Bolton-Warrensburg twice, but they always had hope that everything would come together against Class D teams in the postseason.
“Toward the middle of the season,” Paige said, “I started thinking, this team’s working well together, our defense is pretty good, offense and midfielders were connecting really good.”
The Cardinals are ranked second in the latest New York State Sportswriters Association poll. They’re used to being highly touted in softball, but now it’s soccer where they’ll be in the final four. This one comes with a bus trip and a hotel stay, something they never got in softball because the state tournament is based at Moreau Rec. So it’s old, but it’s new at the same time.
“Most of us have been to states with softball, so that helps with the pressure and knowing what to expect,” Bailey said. “But we are definitely coming in (to something) we’ve never been to. It’ll be different.”
As to whether the Cards can make it to the very top, Humiston said he has the same attitude he had for softball last spring.
“Why not?” he said. “Four teams left in the state. Why not us?”
“I think if we just play our game and come into it with confidence, we have a good chance,” Paige said.