By Nick Sardina
ROME – The time is now for the New Hartford Spartans girls soccer team.
The Spartans are ranked sixth in the state and have already clinched the Tri Valley League West and overall titles. Thursday, the Spartans closed out a perfect league mark with a 3-2 victory over Rome Free Academy at Tom Hoke Field.
After falling behind early, the Spartans scored three straight goals, then held off a late RFA rally to improve to 10-0 in the league and 12-1 overall. Hannah Cahill and Micaela Honsinger each scored goals, and Jordan Restivo had a goal and a beautiful assist for the Spartans.
“Most of us play club together,” Restivo said. “We have played with each other since we were little, and it is one of our best groups we’ve had. We thought we’d do well and are glad we’ve had such a great season so far.”
Over the last decade, the Tri Valley League has been dominated by Whitesboro, as before this season, the Warriors had won 10 of the last 11 titles, including the last six. However, with a roster stacked with young, talented players, the Spartans are primed to have a long run of their own atop the league.
“We have talked about winning and being the team to beat for years,” New Hartford head coach Frank DuRoss, who is in his second season leading the varsity, but has been in the program for five seasons.
“The future is bright for New Hartford soccer, but the future is now. We have a lot of players with high soccer IQ, and we are starting to come together. Program wide we have a solid foundation that should bring us through the next several years.”
New Hartford came out firing Thursday, almost scoring twice in the opening three minutes. However, RFA rebounded from the early onslaught and grabbed a 1-0 lead as sophomore star Amanda Wilbert took advantage of a defensive lapse by the Spartans and banged home a shot from point-blank range right in front of the goal with 33:34 remaining.
The Spartans held a huge advantage in possession time in the first half, but had trouble denting RFA’s defense and goalkeeper Kaitlin Salce. That changed on a beautiful setup with 14:49 remaining in the opening half, as passes by midfielders Julianne Sekula and Meral Evke found a streaking Honsinger, who left-footed a shot by Salce and into the right corner.
RFA (8-5-1), who also has a ton of young talent on its roster, came out strong and played the Spartans even throughout the opening 15 minutes of the second half. But another great display of teamwork gave the Spartans a lead they wouldn’t relinquish with 23:27 remaining. Freshman midfielder Natalie Burns sparked the play, taking the ball through the midfield. Burns then sent a nice through ball to the corner, where the speedy Restivo chased it down and feathered a perfect cross over Salce to a charging Cahill who headed it into the back of the net.
“When I crossed it, I was really excited and just hoping someone would get on the end of it,” Restivo said.
Cahill, who is the team’s lone senior starter, credits hard work and endless practice for the team’s execution on game day.
“Possessing the ball is our strength,” Cahill said. “We do a lot of drills in practice, and it is one of the keys to our team having success. We have an idea where everyone is at all times, and we communicate well.”
The Spartans extended their lead with 4:55 remaining on another nice setup and great effort by junior forward Christina Paul, who beat two RFA defenders just across midfield, then after outrunning defenders down the left sideline, found Restivo all alone in front of the net. Restivo took the pass and drilled a low shot off the right post and into the net for a 3-1 advantage.
That goal seemingly put the game away, but the Black Knights didn’t go quietly as Katharine Balog banged home a shot that was set up off a corner kick with 31 seconds remaining. With little time left, the Black Knights had one last charge, but the Spartans were able to clear the ball off their 18’ and time expired.
For the Black Knights, who start six underclassmen and just two seniors, the future is also promising. Head coach Bill Tagliaferri, who is now in his sixth season, expects to compete with the Spartans in the future.
“I think it has always been there as a rivalry,” Tagliaferri said. “We always have good, competitive games with them, and I would like to think next year we will be battling them again for the TVL title. We are only graduating two players and have pretty good depth coming back.”
Wilbert, who is among the Black Knights’ leaders in goals and assists, thought her team gave great effort.
“We hustled and we just need to practice finishing more,” Wilbert said. “We had some good passes and need to complete the play.”
Despite finishing second in the league, Wilbert and the Black Knights still have plenty of goals to accomplish.
“We were trying to win the TVL,” Wilbert said. “But now we’ll try to do well in sectionals.”
With the league title already in their back pocket, the Spartans will now turn their attention to closing out the season strong.
“We have taken it one goal at a time,” DuRoss said. “We wanted to qualify for sectionals. Then we wanted to win the league. Now we are looking to going to and winning sectionals. We know it will be tough, but we will just try to stay focused and keep the momentum.”
New Hartford 3, Rome Free Academy 2
New Hartford (10-0, 12-1): Hannah Cahill 1-0, Jordan Restivo 1-1, Micaela Honsinger 1-0, Meral Evke 0-1. Julianne Sekula 0-1, Natalie Burns 0-1, Christina Paul 0-1. Gabby Hobika 1 save. Abby Bucholz 1 saves.
RFA (6-4, 8-5-1): Amanda Wilbert 1-0, Jennifer Tasco 0-1, Katharine Balog 1-0, Katherine Migliori 0-1. Kaitlyn Salce 9 saves.