Everyone was optimistic, but I don't know if anyone expected the merger of girls soccer teams from St. Johnsville and Oppenheim-Ephratah to go as well as it did this fall.
The St. Johnsville/Oppenheim-Ephratah girls, A.K.A. St. J/O-E's or St. Joe's, went 8-6-2 overall this season and 5-4-1 in the Western Athletic Conference. Tuesday, they will learn their sectional seed.
Last season, the St. Johnsville girls won three games, went to the Section II Class D tournament for the first time in several seasons and, as the No. 6 seed, upset No. 3 Loudonville Christian 1-0 in the quarterfinals before losing 1-0 to No. 7 Salem in the semis.
The O-E girls went winless last year, but when they merged this fall with the Saints, the pieces returning from each team fit together perfectly for coach Zale Benton.
"Our defense from St. Johnsville was pretty solid," she said. "We had some experience holes, offensively. Oppenheim had some girls coming in who played mostly offense. It just gelled pretty well and the kids got along really well, so there wasn't any of that stepping on toes you always have to worry about when new kids come into a program."
Not only did they fit together well, but they got along well.
Benton said she didn't have to do much to help the girls get along. They did that themselves, she said.
Their willingness to work together has resulted in some impressive results for a group of girls, when playing solely for their respective school districts, had not experienced nearly as much success on a soccer field.
The St. Joe's girls ... what do I call them, anyway? They're not Saints, not Hawks. Haloed Hawks? Sawks?
Anyway, the St. Joe's girls pushed WAC North champion Galway to overtime and lost when the Eagles scored with 34 seconds left in the second 10-minute extra session. They beat Mayfield 2-0 in St. Johnsville and tied them under the lights by the lake. They split with Northville, both teams winning 2-1 at home. They swept Fort Plain, winning 3-2 in both games.
Fort Plain will be in the same bracket with St. Joe's - Class C. Both St. Johnsville and O-E are Class D schools, but together get bumped into Class C.
They twice hung with Berne-Knox-Westerlo, which should get a good seed after finishing third in the WAC?South.
In the championship game of the Suburban Energy Products Tournament in Fort Plain, BKW led St. Joe's 4-0 in the second half. It was the third game of the season and it would have been easy for St. Joe's to accept defeat at the hands of a pretty good team with a bigger program full of girls who were used to playing together.
Instead, they came back to tie the game, 4-4. They ran out of steam at the end, though, and BKW pulled off the 5-4 win.
The two teams met again in crossovers at the end of the regular season. BKW struck for a goal about 20 minutes in. The St. Joe's girls spent the second half peppering the Bulldogs, but were unable to net an equalizer.
They had 10 girls within 25 yards of the BKW at the end of the game because, as Benton said, losing 1-0 is the same as 2-0 and the added pressure could have helped them get in the net. The Bulldogs were able to get a breakaway goal with 16 seconds to play to ice the game.
The St. Joe's girls likely will be in the middle of the pack in the Class C seeding, Benton said. Galway and Mayfield likely will be in the CC bracket for larger Class C schools. Middleburgh and BKW could be in the postseason future for St. Joe's, but they've already shown they can play with BKW and that should give the girls a ton of confidence going into the tournament.
The girls from O-E had not played in the Section III tournament. Benton said their success in volleyball helps because they understand what the postseason is all about and are excited to be in the Section II bracket.
"They're excited about going, and my St. Johnsville kids are excited about going back," she said. "Last year they were so close in the semifinals. They're all working hard and hoping for good things to come."