Garnets title defense going swimmingly thus far

The Rye girls’ soccer team is playing as if the 2008 season never ended.

The reigning Class A State champions defeated AA school Horace Greeley 3-1 on the road September 16, improving their record to 4-0-1. Going back to the 2008 postseason, the Garnets are unbeaten in their last 11 contests, and have outscored opponents 24-3 over that same span.

Victoria Pacos (photo by Melanie Cane)

Victoria Pacos (photo by Melanie Cane)

“I think we’re doing well,” said Rich Savage, the 2008 New York State Coach of the Year. “I’m very pleased with the success against AA schools, but we need to be more consistent. There have been moments of brilliance, and we’ve only given up one goal in five games – so the defense is there – but we need to work on generating scoring opportunities and capitalizing.”

Savage mentioned the importance of his team realizing they can no longer fly under the radar. Everyone is coming for them now, so being up and ready for each game is crucial.

The target on their back has apparently become a rallying point. The Garnets started the season by winning the Hall of Fame Tournament in Oneonta with a pair of 1-0 victories, and then dueled John Jay-Cross River to a 0-0 tie on the road. In the home opener September 14, the girls throttled Fox Lane 3-0.

Junior All-American Lia Bellizzi sparked the offense with two goals and was at the center of Rye’s prolific attack. Her first goal came on a penalty shot five minutes into the game, and her second was assisted by freshman Bania Ludman and sophomore Kirsten Colwell at the 21-minute mark.

Tatiana Saunders, Rye’s junior goalkeeper, was the backbone of the shutout with eight saves. The defensive efforts of junior Catharine Greer and senior captain Kelly McRedmond were also noteworthy.

“It’s nice to see us starting to gel so early in the season,” said Saunders. “A win against a big school like Fox Lane is huge.”

Savage later mentioned the importance of learning not to rely on just Bellizzi and Saunders. In the win at Horace Greeley, junior Kaelyn Lucas emerged as a weapon and led the way with a goal and an assist.

“We returned nine of 11 starters, so we have the same core with some new blood added in,” said the coach. “It’s a large roster of 25 girls focused on mutual support and being ready when your name is called.”

Savage credited McRedmond and Erin McCarty, the senior captains, for showing tremendous leadership in helping the 2009 team bond both on and off the field. He also cited the play of Lindsey Clark in the Horace Greeley game as an example of a player taking his “be ready” message to heart. While on the bench, Clark paid great attention to the action. When she was put in, the junior found herself in the perfect position to score and did just that.

The Garnets’ positive attitude has been infectious. Sophomore Victoria Pacos has shown great improvement, and freshman goalkeeper Lexi Hijazi is a tremendous talent behind Saunders. McRedmond and Lucas are playing at a much higher level than in 2008, and Ludman is a player who gets better with each game. Colwell has impressed Savage with her hustle and strong desire to play.

Rye’s next game is September 24, at home against Somers.

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