By Liam Sample
There was one word to describe the conference opener for the Plattsburgh women’s soccer team: revenge. Being matched up against their newfound rival, the Cortland Red Dragons, the Cardinals were laser focused on avenging the 3-0 semi-final playoff loss last season to Cortland.
Along with that, they were looking to respond to the 2-0 shutout loss to the Middlebury Panthers the game prior, which included a late red card to the team’s point leader, graduate student Kirsten Villemaire. The red card took Villemaire out of contention against the Red Dragons, which gave a bigger challenge for Plattsburgh.
“Pre-game, we kind of talked about kind of handling our emotions in the right way and focusing on our own game and none of the fans. Nothing was interrupting what we were trying to achieve that day,” senior captain Julia Ennis said. “It was definitely a mental battle in a lot of ways, but I think we stuck to our game, which brought success in the end.”
Cortland came into the game undefeated, building a 3-0-2 record and averaging an impressive three goals per game, while giving up only one goal total on the season. Plattsburgh, while only having one loss to Middlebury, had their work cut out for them.
The Red Dragons started Kirsten Spendall, who has begun her sophomore campaign with fire. She came into the game with three straight shutouts and a .22 goals allowed average. On the other end, Plattsburgh turned to sophomore Lauren Haley, who was making her first career conference start. She had given up only one goal throughout her first three collegiate appearances..
Without Villemaire, Plattsburgh started sophomore Ella Santomassimo on offense. She was making her first start of the season and the second of her career. The sophomore started the game off strong, registering two of the first three Cardinal shots of the game.
The team created a quality chance just over seven and a half minutes into the game. With the ball over the midfield line on the far side of the field, graduate student Allison Seidman dribbled the ball laterally, drawing three Red Dragons in her direction. After narrowing in on the penalty area, she made a pass behind her to junior Nora Fitzgerald, who moved the ball to her right and made a pass through two defenders.
Junior Avery Durgan, with an opponent behind her, received the pass and took off into the penalty area. After getting even with the goal post, she attempted a shot to the far corner, which beat Spendall but trickled past the goal.
From there, Cortland began to find its offense. The team would attempt five shots, including four by graduate student Jaden Galluzzo, while putting pressure on the Cardinal defense.
The Red Dragons went on to strike first under 34 minutes into the half, senior defender Katrina Klammer, who had been phenomenal on the throw-ins, lined up on the sideline in the Cardinal end for another. After two perfect headers were played to the goal box, Galluzzo shot the ball out of the air and past Haley for her fourth goal of the season, which is tied for second most in the SUNYAC.
After starting the season with four consecutive shutouts, Plattsburgh now had let up three straight goals in their last two games and realized the need to dig themselves out of the hole. Following the goal, the team huddled near the goal to talk as a team.
“That was just a mismark, those are always tough. We just gathered together and were like, ‘dude that has nothing to do with how we’re playing,’” Fitzgerald said. “We don’t need to get flustered, just continue to play the way we play.”
Ennis mentioned how after giving up the goal, she pointed at Haley from the sideline then pointed at the sky after the goal to tell her to keep her head up.
The Cardinal defense stood strong to finish the half, only letting up one shot on net, which was saved by Haley. Cortland finished the half with nine shots, compared to Plattsburgh’s four.
The Red Dragons began the second half trying to extend the lead, but they were shut down by the opposing defensive line and Haley, who recorded two more saves only eight minutes into the half. It was the Plattsburgh bench who began to turn things around, with junior Tara Bendsak, senior Anna McDuffie and senior Nicole Kinglsey being subbed into the game after the 15-minute mark of the half.
“We said it throughout the season, our depth is where we’re going to find our strength this year. For the first time, we have a reliable bench,” Ennis said. “Being able to make substitutions in a game like that is crucial to what we do want to achieve at the end of the season.”
A chance soon developed after Kinglsey, with the ball at midfield, completed a pass to McDuffie up the far side. The senior dribbled the ball all the way into the penalty area, where she attempted a cross to the center of the goal box. Durgan, who rushed to get to the ball before the Red Dragons did, was called offside.
Soon after, Seidman had the ball in the near side of the offensive zone. From near the sideline, she sent a cross into the goal box, where Durgan’s header went out of bounds. Seidman was taken out of the game and given a break right after this play.
“Coach [Frary] was basically like, ‘you gotta get out of your head,’” Seidman said. “It was so necessary and I’m grateful that she was that I needed a minute because the second I got back onto the field, I was like, ‘all right, let’s go.’”
In total, Seidman was out of the game for under nine minutes, but this proved to be a deciding factor in the result.
With time dwindling fast, the Cardinals had to make a move. With less than 12 minutes on the clock, Spendall sent a goal kick towards midfield. The Red Dragons got the first touch on the ball in the air, but it deflected into Fitzgerald’s chest and began to dribble upfield. She played a pass to Bendsak outside the penalty arc, who maintained control of the ball despite tight defensive coverage on her. She found Durgan near the penalty area on the far side of the field, with space, the junior sent a beautiful cross into the box. After one bounce, Seidman, with the keeper in front of her, flicked a perfect header into the bottom corner of the net to tie the game in clutch fashion.
Seidman mentioned how the day prior to the game, the team was practicing free kicks. While the graduate student typically takes free kicks, Coach Frary had her be a “runner.” She said how in practice junior defender Kayla Myers played a kick, similar to Durgan’s, where she was able to flick it in with her head. She felt this prepared her for this goal,
“I just had such a weird feeling. I was like, ‘oh, this is definitely going to happen in the game,” Seidman said. “I just literally rounded my run and the ball dropped right in front of me and I flicked it around the keeper. Honestly, if you look back at the video, it looks kind of weird, but it went in.”
Fitzgerald said it felt like the team built so many chances throughout the game that it wasn’t able to finish. She said she was shocked when the ball went in.
After celebrating with her team on the field, Seidman sprinted over to the bench and jumped into Villemaire’s arms. The entire team shared a moment of celebration before returning to the game.
Ennis said how Seidman doing this gave the full team the message that, “we’re here and this is going to keep happening for the rest of the season.” The senior felt it was an acknowledgement of all the work the team had put in and no matter the adversity the team faced, the Cardinals’ were still going to “ball out.”
With under a minute left, the Plattsburgh defense made another huge play. The Red attempted a wide open shot deep inside the penalty area, Myers rushed over to the ball and made a diving deflection out of bounds. This play, which could have turned into a goal, was a crucial moment in the result of the match.
“As we get more into the SUNYAC, it gets a lot more physical. It’s not only having to stay mentally focused, but it’s definitely like you’re getting bodied,” Fitzgerald said. “Just continuing making sure we are doing everything to not let a goal in, like Kayla threw her body into that ball to make sure it didn’t go in.”
Seidman spoke of how much she trusts her defensive line, emphasizing their skill with one on one defense and strong communication. She added that you win games with that kind of trust.
Plattsburgh would hang on to complete the come from behind 1-1 tie and pick up a point in the SUNYAC Standings. They went on the road to take on SUNY New Paltz on Sept. 21, who the Cardinals lost to at home last season, where the team lost 2-0, bringing its record to 4-2-1 overall and 0-1-1 in conference. The Cardinals next home game comes Sept. 24 at 1 p.m.. against the Geneseo Knights, who were picked in the SUNYAC preseason poll to finish first and beat Plattsburgh in double overtime last year.
“We’re really taking everything game by game. Cortland’s done, Middlebury’s over, all those games are in the past now.” Ennis said early in the week. “We learned lessons in those games, but regardless of the result we move forward and now our focus is on New Paltz, and we have some redemption to do with them too.”