Shoreham-Wading River's Grace Hillis passes the ball during the state...

Shoreham-Wading River's Grace Hillis passes the ball during the state semifinals against New Hartford on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. Credit: Heather Ainsworth/Heather Ainsworth

CORTLAND — Grace Hillis had been to the state semifinals before and wanted to earn a spot in the finals.

Just 28 minutes in, Hillis found the back of the net and her wish was on its way to being true.

Shoreham-Wading River held on to defeat New Hartford, 1-0, in the Class A girls soccer state semifinals at Cortland High School on Saturday.

The Wildcats (15-3-3) will play Rye in the final at noon on Sunday.

“We’ve been here before, a couple years ago,” Hillis said. “I think that was our biggest motivation. We wanted to have that experience, to have that fun.”

Mia Magano crossed the ball to the left center of the box where the senior Hillis stood. Shoreham-Wading River’s top point scorer volleyed the ball into the left portion of the net with 11:59 remaining in the first half to give the Wildcats the lead.

“It’s really easy — I’m super confident in Grace,” Magano said. “We practice this all the time, before our game warm-up, so I was really confident.”

Hillis had a few other opportunities on crosses, notably from corner attempts. The Wildcats racked up four corners, and Olivia Pesso would regularly look toward Hillis for a header or volley in the middle of the box.

“(Hillis) moved from Riverhead — so she moved in as a ninth grader and hasn’t been off the field since,” coach Adrian Gilmore said. “She’s just dynamite. She was a gift that we got. COVID happened, Riverhead lost their sports and her parents moved into the district. So, it was a blessing for us.”

The Wildcats set the pace early by beginning the game with great speed and hustle. Magano said the team has learned from previous matches that they do best when starting fast, and it started with the warm-ups.

Hillis said her goal gave the team a collective boost of confidence as they pushed for another one. 

The senior is looking to cap off her season and high school career with a state crown — the program’s first since 2019.

“I think it would be amazing just going into college having that experience,” Hillis said. “It’s memories I’ll never forget, even if we don’t (win). I just feel there’s memories that’ll stay with me forever, just being here with the team.”


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