LaGRANGEVILLE Byram Hills junior forward Nicole Hoffman knew exactly what was at stake when she took the field on Saturday looking to win the Bobcats’ first sectional girls soccer title in program history.
A text message prior to the game from her sister, Danielle, a 2011 graduate of Byram Hills and a former member of the soccer team, had reminded her that the 2013 Bobcats weren’t just playing for themselves, but an entire program.
Inspired, Hoffman scored the top-seeded Bobcats’ first goal in their 2-0 win over No. 6 Eastchester at Arlington High School to help capture their first Class A title.
“For all the alumni that haven’t made it here, it’s amazing,” Hoffman said. “Indescribable.”
Byram Hills sophomore defender Jessica Kennett, whose father, Graham Kennett, coached the Bobcats’ boys team, said it was nice to finally represent the girls program by winning a sectional title.
“I kept imagining this day the whole day,” Kennett said. “To finally be able to say we won for everyone … It’s just unreal.”
Byram Hills will play the Section 4 winner in the regional semifinals at Vestal High School on Tuesday at a time to be determined.
Coach Mike Martino, who is in his first season at Byram Hills, said he was aware of the talent he was taking over from former Bobcats coach Bryan Horn entering the season.
“I knew that the team was extremely well-jelled and that we had a shot at it,” Martino said of his team’s sectional-title chances. “All we had to do was apply it.”
Despite taking 11 shots in the first half, the Bobcats weren’t able to get on the board until five minutes into the second when Hoffman beat Clarissa Mejia (seven saves) from 25 yards out.
Byram Hills’ defense stayed solid for the next 30 minutes as the Eagles looked to equalize.
Defenders Kennett, Annabel Stanley and Sela Berenblum kept the back line strong, along with goalkeeper Emma Giardina (four saves), against Eastchester’s consistent pressure.
“We’ve really bonded,” Kennett said of the defenders. “We know if one person steps in and makes a mistake, the other will pick us up and clear it out.”
While the Bobcats’ offense has drawn attention for being one of the highest-scoring groups in the section, it was the defense that stepped up down the stretch.
“(The defense) played cool, calm and collected,” Martino said. “I think they were a little bit rattled in the beginning. Once they settled in, they really stuck in.”
Byram Hills would get an insurance goal from Raquel Gaudio in the final five minutes.
“I’m just happy I could do it with these people,” Kennett said. “They have so much heart.”
Photo courtesy of John Meore/Journal News. For the entire gallery click here.