Maple Grove boys trim T’Birds in Class C final
A 2018 sectional final loss to Randolph seems like a distant memory to the Maple Grove boys soccer team.
Now the Red Dragons are back-to-back champions.
Cara Abbey’s third-seeded team won its second straight Section VI Class C title Saturday afternoon with a 4-1 victory over No. 4 Chautauqua Lake on Dutch Hollow Road.
“Something no team (usually) gets unless you are a state champion is to end the season with a win,” senior co-captain Nick Golando said. “We are happy with that.”
“Three years ago really set the tone. Those seniors worked hard and deserved it,” senior co-captain Adam Marsh added. “That taught us a lesson. … We ended up working harder in practice, focusing more and putting in a little more time.”
Alex MacCallum had a goal and an assist as the Red Dragons capped a 12-1-1 season.
“They’re a phenomenal team. You can’t have too many mistakes against a team like that,” Chautauqua Lake coach Mike Putney said. ” … We met our goal. We got to where we wanted to be. It would’ve been nice to put the icing on the cake. … We came up a little short.”
In fact, Maple Grove’s only loss of the year came last Friday when it fell to the Thunderbirds, 3-2, in the teams’ regular-season finale.
“The best thing that happened to us was that loss to Chautauqua Lake,” Abbey said. “It totally just forced us to get into the right mentality at the right time.”
The Red Dragons weren’t about to let it happen again.
Despite going down 1-0 in the 17th minute when Hunter Harris’ long, left-footed drive went off the hands of Maple Grove junior keeper Andrew Auer and into the goal, the Red Dragons controlled possession for much of the afternoon.
The hosts tied the game with just 1:28 remaining in the first half. MacCallum sent a corner kick into the 18-yard box that was cleared by Chautauqua Lake’s defense, but again found the foot of the junior midfielder. Unchallenged at the edge of the box, MacCallum sent a bending left-footed shot into the high corner of the goal.
“I think they had 11 corner kicks,” Putney said. “Trying to stop those, when they can place them where they want to is tough.”
The score remained the same until the 58th minute when MacCallum set up another goal. Again off a corner kick, he sent the ball to the far post where junior center back Cam Crist was waiting for a perfectly placed header to give the Red Dragons the lead.
“Cam’s a great player. … He doesn’t get all the fame and glory like the strikers do,” Marsh said. “It’s really awesome to see him finally put one in, especially in such a big game.”
It was Crist’s first varsity goal.
“That kid has been begging me for years to go up on corner kicks,” Abbey added. ” … What a goal for him to score, the go-ahead goal in a sectional (final).”
Last week against the Thunderbirds, Maple Grove led 2-0 midway through the first half and still 2-1 midway through the second half before the Thunderbirds rallied for the victory.
During a break midway through the second half Saturday, the Red Dragons’ leadership group made sure there wasn’t another letdown.
“One of the most rewarding moments when you are coaching is when you realize your job is done and you can let them lead,” Abbey said. “I could not ask for a better set of captains than Adam Marsh and Nick Golando, who have totally led the charge.”
The team responded.
With 15:46 left in the game, Chautauqua Lake senior Alex Godfrey collided with junior keeper Tate Olson and Maple Grove senior Tristan Spillane was the beneficiary of the misplay, taking possession and touching the ball to his left foot before shooting past a scrambling Olson to give the Red Dragons a 3-1 lead.
“If we allow a goal because of effort,” Putney said, “so be it.”
In the 77th minute, sophomore Eli Moore put the game away when he one-touched a Golando pass over Olson’s head and into the goal.
“We decided to keep the pressure on and we got another one,” Golando said. “Once that went it, it was the most relief I’ve ever felt in my life.”
The championship continues a string of impressive years for the Red Dragons, who will look to continue it next fall when they return 12 players from this season’s title team.
“There are four seniors that have been in the program since they were seventh-graders,” Abbey said. ” … That core has been huge for this program. They have built what we have. … This win tonight absolutely solidifies what they’ve built.”