CORTLAND, N.Y. — Some teams are just happy to be there. Others live to take advantage of each opportunity. And even though the Babylon girls soccer team is filled with underclassmen, the Panthers refused to take the moment for granted.
Babylon fell to Central Valley Academy, 5-1, in the girls soccer Class B state semifinals at Homer High School on Saturday afternoon. But even with goalkeeper Emma Ward as the lone senior starter, the Panthers finished the contest like it was the final varsity game for every player.
“I learned they are hungry for this and they are not content with just being here,” coach Frank Mancuso said. “Sometimes it’s easy for the younger kids to come out of a game and think ‘We’ll be fine, we’ll be back here next year’ but they truly know that nothing’s guaranteed.”
Even with Central Valley taking a 3-0 lead at halftime, the Panthers kept pushing on the offensive attack.
“Even in this game, this game did not go the way we wanted it to go, obviously, but the girls never stopped fighting,” Mancuso said. “They were still going hard and trying to create some offense, even with less than five minutes left.”
Jayne Stark, a sophomore, scored the lone goal for Babylon with 15 minutes left on a penalty kick. Ward, who has been a constant source of motivation for the Panthers throughout the season after working back from two torn ACLs and as the lone senior starter, had nine saves and forced constant pressure in the back.
With a 25-player roster, Mancuso said part of the reason he carried such a large team was for the younger players to interact and learn from Ward.
“We wanted a bigger group of girls to interact and learn from her,” Mancuso said. “They learned how to step up in big experiences and take charge when the team needs you. And they learned how to pick up your teammates when things don’t go well.”
With a young team, the Panthers hope trips to Cortland will become the norm, but they aren’t taking anything for granted.
“I’m incredibly proud,” Mancuso said. “Sometimes you have to lose before taking that next step. You need to see the quality of teams to see and it’s not one we are going to forget.”