By Michael Kelly
NISKAYUNA — When the season started, Niskayuna girls’ soccer senior Erica Wasserbach was unsure about her team’s chances. After winning the Section II Class AA title in 2015, the Silver Warriors had lost so many key players to graduation that Wasserbach struggled to see how this year’s team could defend its title.
“If you’d told me [before the season] we were going to win sectionals,” she said after Niskayuna did that this past Tuesday with a 5-2 win against Bethlehem, “I would have been, like, ‘Really?’ Let’s see what happens.’ ”
But Wasserbach, Niskayuna’s senior captain, never let her teammates see any doubt. The versatile defender guided a youthful Silver Warriors squad this season to its third area title in four years, her presence the one that’s steadied Niskayuna through the uneven moments in its 16-0-3 campaign.
“She doesn’t get nervous — ever — which I just don’t understand how she doesn’t, but she really doesn’t,” Niskayuna junior Alana McNulty said. “She really motivates the rest of us.”
Ali Greco, another Niskayuna junior, added: “She’s just never afraid.”
Wasserbach leads Niskayuna into the state playoffs Saturday, as the Silver Warriors will play for a regional championship against Liverpool (15-3-1, Section III) at G. Ray Bodley High School in Fulton.
Against a relatively unknown opponent, Niskayuna head coach Bryce Colby will lean even more than usual on Wasserbach to guide the Silver Warriors. After serving as a captain as a junior, Colby said Wasserbach — who will play next season for Le Moyne College — has been crucial to Niskayuna’s success this fall.
“She’s very open, she’s kind, and she’s not just about the seniors. Everyone respects her, and you can’t not respect the things she does on the field for us,” Colby said. “That makes it easy to listen to her.”
“It’s her presence with everyone,” McNulty said. “It’s how she acts around everyone. She’s always motivating.”
Niskayuna receives the bulk of its offense from non-seniors, with junior Izzy Lynch (16 goals, 11 assists) and freshman Olivia Piraino (17 goals, 10 assists) leading its attack. Colby had toyed with slotting Wasserbach (four goals, six assists) into the midfield this year to take advantage more of her offensive skills, but said keeping the three-year varsity player at a position where she can both anchor the team’s defense and make offensive contributions when needed is what’s worked best for the Silver Warriors.
Whatever helps the most, Wasserbach said, is what she wanted to do this season as she stepped more firmly into a leadership role for the Silver Warriors.
“I knew what I wanted to do this year. As a captain, I wanted to be approachable and make a difference on the field,” said Wasserbach, who captains the Silver Warriors along with junior Morgan Kelleher. “That’s all I focused on, really, keeping my teammates encouraged and keeping their spirits up.”
And, all season, that’s what Wasserbach’s Niskayuna teammates have known they could count on her to supply.
“She’s stepped up big for us,” Greco said. “She’s inspired all of us to push ourselves, whether it’s at practices or games.”
With a win Saturday against Liverpool, Niskayuna will clinch a spot in the state semifinals. It’s a high-pressure game, but the Silver Warriors have the leader they need to help them through it.
“We’re not going to have any hesitations going into that game,” Wasserbach said.
BACK TO STILLWATER
Locally, a pair of girls’ soccer regional finals will take place Saturday at Stillwater, with Schoharie looking to win its third consecutive regional championship when it takes on Section VII’s Northern Adirondack at 4 p.m.
Schoharie, which topped Lake George 1-0 in Wednesday’s Section II Class C final, has not allowed a goal since its 3-1 win Oct. 12 against Berne-Knox-Westerlo.
Schoharie’s matchup will follow Bolton’s 2 p.m. Class D game against Section IX’s Eldred.
ONE SET, FOUR TO GO
While Fort Ann, Section II’s Class D representative to the state tournament, has already advanced to the semifinals, four more Section II schools will get their shot Saturday to do the same.
At Colonie High School, Class B’s Ichabod Crane will take on Section X’s Ogdensburg Free Academy at 2 p.m. Right before that matchup, Maple Hill and Section X’s Potsdam will play in the Class C game at noon.
Meanwhile, Class AA’s Bethlehem will play Section III’s Liverpool at 11:30 a.m. and Class A’s Queensbury will face New Hartford at 1:30 p.m. Both large-school games take place at Herkimer County Community College.
FIELD HOCKEY VS. SECTION IV
All three of Section II’s field hockey champions will be in action Saturday at Greene High School in regional finals against Section IV squads.
Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake will get the games started with an 11 a.m. Class B matchup against Vestal, while Shenendehowa’s 3 p.m. Class A matchup against Maine-Endwell will follow Hoosick Falls’ 1 p.m. Class C game against Whitney Point.
Both Shenendehowa and Burnt Hills are looking to make repeat trips to the state semifinals.