DRYDEN, N.Y. - Remember when South Side won a girls soccer state championship in 2011? And when they did it again the next year? The players created for themselves memories they will forever cherish, and wonderful stories that soon were told to awe-struck friends.
Keri Cavallo was one of those friends, hearing secondhand about the Cyclones' exploits. Oh, she is the team's superstar and always was a driving force in its trips upstate. She just couldn't accompany them on those journeys because of outside obligations.
Not this time.
Welcome to Cortland, Ms. Cavallo!
In her state tournament debut, the senior scored an early goal and South Side held on to beat Mendon, 1-0, Saturday in a Class A state semifinal at Tompkins Cortland CC.
"This was amazing," Cavallo said, beaming.
The previous two times South Side won a Long Island title and made its way north, Cavallo headed to Florida to compete with her regional team. With this being her final opportunity to participate in a championship run, though, scheduling conflicts became irrelevant.
"I love this team so much and the trip was awesome," said Cavallo, a two-time All-Long Islander headed to Yale. "I want to soak it all in and I'm glad we get to stay another night up here."
The hotel is grateful for the extra revenue, and South Side is even more thankful for a chance at its 18th state crown. The Cyclones (15-3-1) face Somers in the final at 5 p.m. Sunday.
"Keri has been a major part of this team and she finally gets to experience this, so we're all excited," Alexandra McNicholas said. "Not to mention, she's a big asset."
Really big. Cavallo scored off a pass from McNicholas with 24:46 left in the first half. McNicholas spotted Cavallo to her left, streaking up the wing, and squibbed a pass across toward the midfielder's foot. Cavallo then booted a liner from 16 yards that found the far right corner.
"Keri and I work well together and we read each other," McNicholas said. "I saw her running and she had an opening, so I just played her the ball and we all know how well she can finish."
South Side controlled possession and tempo for most of the first half, but Mendon's defense and goalkeeper Barb Bruce (12 saves) repeatedly denied them an insurance goal. That proved unnecessary, thanks to the Cyclones' smothering defense.
Ally Diez and Victoria Reis anchored the center midfield and seldom allowed Mendon quality scoring chances.
The Vikings' best opportunity came with 23:59 remaining, when a shot deflected off the left post. Kayla Klarides made seven saves in the win.
"Not making it here last year made us want this even more," coach Shannon McEntee said, referring to the Cyclones' loss in the Nassau final to rival Garden City, which went on to win the state title. "There's added motivation for the girls and we're gunning for this."
Before that, the team Saturday night had a tutorial session for Cavallo, filling her in on their various state tournament traditions and rituals. All of them are held sacred and most kept secret.
"There are a lot of traditions and I had no idea what they are," Cavallo said with a grin. "Now that I'm a part of it, I'm looking forward to finding out."
Winning, we presume, is the tradition they hold most dear.