CORTLAND, N.Y. — Wheatley girls soccer coach Michelle Santoro gave goalkeeper Cecilia Jozef a choice Saturday as the Wildcats' dream of a state championship began slipping away during their semifinal match with Chenango Forks. It was a thank-you for a personal sacrifice Jozef made last year.
When the Wildcats were without a goalkeeper last season, Jozef, then a junior, took it upon herself to assume the role. A natural field player, Jozef was hesitant, and for the sake of her own game, she wanted to play the field. But she knew that wouldn’t be best for the team.
Saturday morning, with Wheatley trailing late in its Class B state semifinal matchup at Cortland High School, Santoro asked Jozef if she wanted to play the field one last time.
“She said no,” Santoro said. “She wanted to stay back there, to make the girls feel comfortable, supporting them. That just shows her integrity that she didn’t make the move selfishly. She said ‘The team has needed me back there and there’s where I’m going to end.’ ”
“A lot of it was how comfortable my team feels with me back there,” Jozef said. “It’s a sense of security for them and I wanted to let them finish off their final minutes. I didn’t think it was necessary for me to come up and get on the field, I play outside soccer, that’s my time. This is for them.”
Wheatley was unable to climb out of an early deficit, with Chenango Forks scoring three goals in the opening 18 minutes, in a 3-0 loss with snowy, slippery field conditions. Sisters Emma Bough (two goals) and Aubrey Bough (one goals) did the damage for Chenango Forks (20-0-1), as Wheatley advanced to its second state semifinal in the past three seasons.
“I’m so proud of how much we’ve progressed,” said senior defender Samantha Rothstein, a four-year varsity player. “When I was in ninth grade, we didn’t even make it to the state championships and this is the second time we’ve made it in the past four years, which is incredible.”
Wheatley finished 9-4-4.
“I’m so proud of everyone for making the best of this experience,” said Jozef, who made six saves. “It’s something we’re going to remember for the rest of our lives.”
And with younger players Isa Rios, Katherine Gold, Kaitlin Schriefer, Rebecca Sparacio, Caroline O’Brien, Lexi Burke and Alexandra Ofsie set to return next season, the Wildcats are excited for their future, despite losing seniors Rothstein, Jozef, Julia Braito and Ciara O’Brien.
“We have a young team, too,” Rothstein said. “So I’m glad they got to experience this and most likely they’ll get to experience it again.”
And although the Wildcats finished just shy of their ultimate goal, the seniors were happy to finish their season in Cortland.
“This is what we’ve been working toward the entire season,” Rothstein said. “This is our goal, so it’s great we were able to accomplish it.”