CHAPPAQUA, N.Y.— Playing a regular season of soccer is about improving, no matter how talented a team is at the start. The 2016 Mahopac Indians have grown exponentially after a slow start and proved it by taking down the top-seeded Horace Greeley Quakers in the Section 1 Class AA quarterfinal, 4-2, in penalty kicks last Tuesday, Oct. 25 on a frosty afternoon.

“I am very proud of the girls,” Mahopac coach Ross Fumusa said. “I am lost for words right now. I am really happy for them from the way we started in the beginning of the season. With the hard work and how we battled through injuries, to come here and knock off the number-one seed is big.”

Although the Quakers played with great speed and possessed the ball for the vast majority of the game, Mahopac capitalized on its few opportunities in the first half.

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Junior Morgan Kirby sent a pass over to freshman Carly Steinberg. She fed a cutting Katie Yurish down the middle as she banged in the first goal of the contest during the 17th minute.

“Coming in today we were confident,” Fumusa said. “The girls kept saying, ‘We are not a typical nine-seed.’ We played the ball well and had a week of practice on grass (to prepare for the field). They are an incredible team and we just felt that we could match them evenly.”

Although pressured often, the Indians’ defense held up in a physical game. The offense provided a cushion in the 37th minute when Kirby softly shot in a goal on a breakaway after receiving a cross from Steinberg.

Mahopac managed to hold its 2-0 lead into halftime even though Horace Greeley managed to take eight shots on goal on Julia Mende.

The Quakers, who lost only one game all season, cleaned up their act in the second half. Zoe Rock hooked up with Stella Schwartz on the right side of the net as she lined in a score during the 45th minute to cut the lead in half.

Dealing with overwhelming pressure after the goal, the Mahopac defense allowed a goal with just 15 minutes remaining in regulation. Greeley’s Kelsey Genda floated a mid-range goal from the right side of the field into the upper-left corner of the net to knot the intense match-up at 2-2.

Both sides had their chances to put it away in regular time, but misfired often due to the high-energy defenses on display. The first overtime played out pretty evenly without much shooting on goal. Mende dove left to make a crucial save as Greeley threatened during the second overtime period.

Mahopac missed a brilliant opportunity to win the game in the first five-minute sudden-death period. Running exactly on the same play in which the Indians scored their first goal, Yurish sailed her attempt against the crossbar.

Steinberg also nearly ended it during the second sudden death when she kicked a shot, which was saved by goalie Ashley Rosenberg off the rebound.

It was a long-fought stalemate featuring 30 extra minutes of play in the crisp air that advanced to penalty kicks.

“This was the ultimate perseverance,” Fumusa said. “As soon as that first whistle when we started moving the ball we knew we could do this. Kaylee Mattos was sick and she played the whole entire game very well. We put her on their best player (Sophia Danyko-Kulchycky) and she did an unbelievable job marking her.”

During penalty kicks, juniors Ailis Martin and Kirby each netted their kicks as did the first two shooters for Greeley. But Steinberg’s attempt was saved by a left-leaning Rosenberg while the situation seemed bleak.

The magic returned for Mahopac when Yurish launched a goal to the left side of the goalkeeper following a miss wide-left from Greeley’s Piper Krase.

Samantha Colatruglio made it 3-2 following another miss from Greeley’s Morgan Imberman off the high post.

The sophomore Colatruglio nailed it left side to finish the penalty kicks, 4-2, to send Mahopac to the section semifinal.

“We were confident but not overconfident,” Fumusa said. “We just believed in ourselves. I see all of the smiling faces and tears from girls who didn’t even play. It means that everybody is in. I am so happy that the girls got to experience this.”

Kirby admitted she has never experienced a game as exhilirating as the battle with the Quakers in the quarterfinals.

“I really haven’t (played a game like this),” Kirby said. “It’s hard to put into words. It’s awesome because we were coming in here with nothing to lose and they had everything to lose. We knew they had a great team and would be confident. It is hard for them to lose this way but it feels great for us.”

Mahopac kept on with its quest and squared off with the fifth-seeded Suffern Mounties on Friday, Oct. 28. The Indians had defeated Suffern, 2-1, in overtime at the high school on Oct. 15.

This time, however, the Indians fell to the fifth-seeded Mounties, 3-1, in the section semifinal on Friday afternoon. Mende did all that she could, saving 11 shots while Martin booted in Mahopac’s lone goal.

“I can remember sitting with the girls a few games into the season and going over how many points we needed just to make sectionals,” Fumusa said. “And here we made it to the semifinals. I can’t begin to explain how happy I am for this team. They deserved the success. The character they showed, the belief they had in each other and their ‘never give up’ attitude made this district proud.”