ALLEGANY, NY -- At the beginning of the season, Allegany-Limestone girls soccer coach Dale MacArthur told the Buffalo News that winning the sectional title is always the goal, but conceded, “It doesn’t always work out that way.”
As his Gators gear up a run at a Class C repeat, the 29-year coach with more than 400 career wins thinks there’s a good shot things will work out again this year.
“I think we have as good a chance as anyone, probably better than most,” he said. “We’ve had a good season, and have learned and improved with each game.”
With one game left to play in the regular season, at Amherst on Friday, the 14-1 Gators are third in the sectional playoff standings, behind only Maple Grove and Holland. At 15-0, Maple Grove is the only team with fewer losses. Class A1 powerhouse Grand Island is the only team in Section 6 with more goals (114) than Allegany-Limestone’s 86.
The Gators haven’t just won 93 percent of their games; they’ve breezed past the majority of their competition, winning by an average margin of 5.5 goals. After a 3-2 loss to Ellicottville on Sept. 19, they responded by scoring 28 goals over their next four games, more or equal to what four teams in their class have put in the back of the net all season.
The blowouts displayed the team’s formidability, but the close matchup against Ellicottville gave Allegany-Limestone a much-needed taste of adversity before a decisive 5-1 victory against the Eagles in the rematch.
“Ellicottville was a competitive game, and I think the biggest thing we learned from it was that you have to be prepared to play every game,” MacArthur said. “At some point in each season that lesson has to be relearned. I think there was a positive in losing that game because we could have been unprepared against a weaker team and got away with it. We weren't mentally ready, and we didn't get away with it."
He continued, “We had other competitive games, including Portville, Catt/Little Valley and Pioneer, but we were mentally where we had to be in those games.”
The high-powered offense is part family affair, as cousins Alyssa and Danielle Spring have combined for 34 goals and 25 assists. Molly McClelland is the other 30-plus point scorer, with 13 scores and 12 helpers, filling out a “Big 3” that is all in the top 15 for individual scoring in the Chautauqua and Cattaraugus Athletic Association.
Just don’t say “Big 3” to MacArthur, who’s a team concept guy, first and foremost.
“I prefer to think in terms of the Big Nineteen,” he said. “Everyone on the team has contributed to our wins and our loss. It's always good to have more than one person you can rely on to score, but unless we get them the ball and create opportunities for them it's a moot point. Unless we defend well, we don't get the ball to create those opportunities as often as we'd like.
“As an example, we've scored seventy-eight goals and had assists on sixty-four of them. Over eighty percent of our scoring is a direct result of one player giving another player the ball in a dangerous position. One hundred percent of our scoring is an indirect result of someone else's play, whether they get credited with an assist or not.”
Starting next week, the Gators’ caliber will be put to the strenuous test of sectionals. Of the top six teams in Class C, they have only played Portville, a squad they beat twice. They have not faced aforementioned Maple Grove and Holland, nor have they matched up against Frewsburg or Chautauqua Lake.
MacArthur noted that Maple Grove and Holland have played similar top five competition, but acknowledged that they play the larger schools the Gators have not played.
“Interestingly, (one is) the same number of top five teams in Class C that Maple Grove has played. Holland has played none of them,” MacArthur said. “However, Maple Grove has also played (and beaten) the second ranked (class) B2 school twice. Holland has split with the top ranked B2 school. We have played and beaten the second ranked A2 and will play the third ranked A2 this Friday.
“That said, I believe both Maple Grove and Holland have an advantage in that they regularly play larger, potentially stronger schools because of their league schedules. That's not to say that their opponents are always better than ours, but the potential exists simply because those opponents are class B and larger.”
Whether Allegany-Limestone goes back-to-back or not remains to be seen, but MacArthur said the game plan won’t change, no matter who the team draws each match.
“Our game plan is always the same,” he said. “We want to focus on the things we do best. If the opponent has a particularly dangerous player, we might make some slight adjustments, but likely nothing major.”
The official tournament bracket will be released after each team has concluded the regular season.