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Boys soccer: IHC battles Jasper-Troupsburg in Saturday’s state semifinals

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Before each season, Immaculate Heart Central’s boys soccer players jot down both team and individual goals for the upcoming campaign.

Dating back to last year and particularly entering this season, many players wrote down that winning a state championship was the team’s primary goal.

Now the Cavaliers have earned this opportunity as they’ll compete in the state soccer final four this weekend in Middletown.

“It’s really exciting,” senior forward Jude Fusilli said. “We’ve been looking forward to this all year and its been our goal for a while now. ... When we wrote down our team goals, everyone had winning a state championship on there.”

After winning the school’s first sectional title in boys soccer in nearly a quarter of a century and winning its first state quarterfinal game, IHC will compete in a state semifinal for the first time in the program’s history.

“I think this confidence just comes with some good senior leadership,” IHC coach Mary Guyette said, “and having goals set for yourself and wanting to accomplish those goals. There’s just certain groups of players who come through who you know can go all the way and this is just one of them.”

IHC (16-3-1) will take on Section 5 champion Jasper-Troupsburg (16-3-1) in a Class D state semifinal at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Middletown High School. The winner of Saturday’s game advances to the Class D final against either Section 7’s Chazy or Section 2’s Fort Ann at 1 p.m. Sunday.

“It’s a real special group of boys,” Guyette said of the Cavaliers, who sport 10 seniors on the roster. “It doesn’t happen very often where you have a great group of athletes that are very talented soccer players. They’re great kids on and off the field — and that combination is great to have.”

The school’s girls soccer program has won a pair of state titles, but now this boys team will get its chance to shine in the state spotlight.

“Soccer has never been the big sport at IHC,” senior midfielder and co-captain Chris Rowland said. “But with our success this year and playing in the state semifinals there is a buzz around the school. People are excited for us and it’s really nice to have some support.”

This experience is not new to Guyette, who led Lyme to a state title, also in Class D, in 2007.

“It’s kind of special to me leading the girls to that title and getting the chance to lead these boys to this round and hopefully further,” said Guyette, now in her fourth season of coaching at IHC. “It’s pretty exciting for me as well. ... The (seniors) on this team were in sixth grade at the time, and, of course, I was coaching a group of them in the indoor season and taking them to tournaments,”

Guyette, who coached 20 years at Lyme, where she teaches, sees parallels between that team and this group of Cavaliers.

“And these (Lyme) girls were a special group as well and just knew they could go far,” she said. “I remember telling them that ‘this group of boys, even though they’re only in sixth grade, are going to be good when they get older.’ And now here they are.”

Guiding the Indians to the state title was also Guyette’s lone Section 3 title at the school.

“With coaching at smaller schools, sometimes they are certain groups of players that come through that you just know can go far,” Guyette said. “Your expectations for them are high and they live up to those expectations. And this is a special group.”

Guyette, known as a vocal leader, knew this group had the potential to go far and they’re not finished yet.

“On the sidelines, she’s a very passionate coach,” senior defender and co-captain Pat Gefell said of Guyette. “She really wants to see the best from us and she expects the best from us.”

With a 2-0 victory over Poland in the Section 3 title game two Fridays ago, IHC claimed the school’s first sectional title in boys soccer since 1988, a year after the program was established.

“We’ve played together since we were all very young,” Rowland said. “We’re all really confident in each other and our ability to play together with each other’s skills. Getting knocked out in the finals last year, obviously lit a fire in our belly to really pick it up this year and go far.”

The Cavaliers have risen to a No. 3 state ranking among Class D schools, with Jasper-Troupsburg No. 4.

“It’s something we’ve really dreamed about since we were little kids,” Rowland said. “It’s been quite an experience and it’s an exciting time.”

IHC has won five consecutive games — all in the postseason — to advance to this point, including registering three straight shutouts.

After avenging a loss to Poland in the 2012 Section 3 final, IHC continued its scoreless string by edging Section 4 champion Margaretville, 1-0, last Saturday.

“Keeping the ball on the ground and possessing is really what we do best,” Gefell said. “And if we’re on our game, no one can play with us in that apsect.”

Junior goalkeeper Jarrod Smith and the Cavaliers have posted 11 shutouts this season, allowing 17 goals in 20 games.

“We knew we could go far if we played well,” Guyette said. “And I think we’ve been playing really, really well the last few weeks as a team. I think we’re peaking at the right time and we’re hoping to keep playing well this weekend.”

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