CORTLAND, N.Y. — Allison LaMonica said she never expected she’d be a part of a team that didn’t lose for two months, and she certainly didn’t think she’d be standing on the field at the Class B girls soccer state championship semifinal.
When the season started, LaMonica looked at who Wheatley lost to graduation and thought the young team would be a work in progress. Instead, she got an unbeaten string dating to mid-September and Wheatley’s first appearance in the state semifinal since 2006.
“I have never been here,” the forward said almost in disbelief that it finally happened. “I’ve been here five years and I’ve never been here.”
The appearance ended in a 3-1 loss to Syracuse-Westhill at Cortland High School on Saturday, but LaMonica looked at the players she had gone on this run with, many of them younger, and had pride for what they had built together.
“It feels like we left something good for the rest of them to continue,” LaMonica said. “I’m glad that that’s how I’m leaving.”
That young core played a big role for the Wildcats Saturday. Sophomore Tiffany Bernot put in Wheatley’s goal with 8:44 left in the game off a free kick from 30 yards out. It set off more chances for the Wildcats (12-2-4), culminating in another long attempt by Bernot that was stopped by Westhill keeper Bella Lavigne with 2:30 remaining.
“Although we were losing 3-0, to get that goal just as we were pushing to the end, we [thought], we’re going to stay in there and we’re not going to give up until that final buzzer goes off,” Bernot said.
Another sophomore, Sydney Silverman, held off endless attacks from Westhill. The goalkeeper grabbed blistering shots and at one point made consecutive deflections with her foot. Westhill’s Jayanna Monds broke through three times, twice off headers from corners. Silverman ended with 11 saves.
“The last 10 minutes . . . we played our hearts out,” Silverman said. “We finished this game strong, we came back and we got one. “And you know what, I’m happy with that. I’m proud of them.”
Senior fullback Gretchen Keller had been a part of the building process, and saw how a historic season could bring a group together as friends. Wheatley’s previous loss came in a non-league game against North Shore on Sept. 13.
“I’ve never felt more part of a community than I have this season with these girls,” Keller said.
And while Keller and LaMonica are part of the group that are graduating, the younger players won’t let their legacy be forgotten.
“We’ll make you guys proud,” Silverman said.