With Mount Vernon on the final day of the regular season, the Scarsdale girls soccer team knew it had one more hurdle to clear in their quest for an undefeated league championship season, and that was rival New Rochelle just one day earlier.
The Raiders topped the Huguenots narrowly 2-1 on Nov. 13 and Mount Vernon 9-0 on Nov. 14 to secure their regular season legacy. And now with the top seed in the Section 1 Southern Westchester Large Schools region, the Raiders are going for their first postseason title of any kind since 2000, the last time Scarsdale won the spring Section 1 crown.
“I think that was a huge win, really clutch,” coach Mindy Genovese said of New Ro, which tied Scarsdale earlier in the season. “Not only were we able to clinch the league championship, but also just to build confidence and momentum into the playoff run.”
Freshman Lola Tirabassi continued her stellar rookie season, scoring Scarsdale’s first goal of the game. “She’s had a huge season,” Genovese said of her center-midfielder. “She’s a freshman, but she certainly doesn’t play like that. She’s a game-changer. Every time she steps onto the field she’s ready to go. She brings a lot to this team, so it’s been great for her to step up into this role for us as a playmaker.”
Senior Jojo Denion scored the eventual game-winner.
“Jojo had a clutch goal,” Genovese said. “It was incredible. It was a throw-in from Ella, who plays outside back. One of our players laid it out to her, she crossed it and Jojo volleyed it in. It was upper 90, unsavable. That was the winning goal, so it was huge for us.”
Senior goalie Dylan Gross said it took a calm, composed effort to shut New Ro down.
“They’ve always been a tough team, but we came in really focused,” she said. “I think what’s great about our team is that nobody plays for themselves. We all play for each other. That really shows. We’re always looking for teammates, making runs and working together, which has really paid off.”
There were still about 30 minutes left in the game, so the Raiders had to stay strong defensively to secure the win.
“We really had to stay organized, which we’ve been working on all season,” Genovese said. “Our defense really starts from our No. 9, our striker, so being able to press and being able to put a lot of pressure on their defense was really key because they tend to play a more direct style and that prevented a lot of those long balls coming out and hitting their top player, Teresa [Deda], who is a very, very solid player.”
Gross only needed to make four saves, but that was in part because her defense made her job easier.
“Teresa certainly had a handful of shots, but I thought we did a really good job of pushing her out wide,” Genovese said. “The shots she was taking were off-balance, so they weren’t really on target as much.”
Gross is a major success story for the Raiders. Last year as a junior she was asked to play junior varsity because there were not enough goalies in the program. She was promised a call-up for sectionals, and even got in a playoff game last fall.
Gross has been vocal working with the defense in helping control the field, in addition to making clutch saves.
“It’s key that she got that game experience, which is exactly what we wanted for her to be prepared for this season coming in,” Genovese said of her unselfish goalkeeper. “I think having her play in those games and pulling her up into our postseason play was really helpful.
“I think she understood that this was what was best not only for her, but for the program at the time. She’s a team player, so she was able to understand that. She always puts forth her best effort.”
Playing every day on JV, getting a taste of varsity last year and building a good rapport with her defense — seniors Tori Von Redden, Abigail Talish, Eve Braverman and Emily Yacoub, and freshman Elahe Sherrell — this year has been exactly what the team needed this fall.
“We work really well together,” Gross said. “The defense is awesome. They listen to me and we have a mutual respect. We all play for each other.”
While Gross knew what to expect from her veteran seniors, Sherrell stood out as a rookie.
“Elahe has been amazing as a freshman,” Gross said. “She’s a huge force for us in the back. I think that’s awesome to see. She’s made such an impact on our team. It’s great to watch her come out of her shell and be such a force in the back.”
For the Mount Vernon game, the Raiders were able to relax and make sure the entire team got a chance to contribute.
“We were able to give everyone plenty of playing time,” Genovese said. “It was nice to see everyone out there and we got to work on some areas of our game that we wanted to improve.”
The win made the league title and undefeated season official.
“The win against Mount Vernon was huge because we secured that title and we didn’t have to share it with Mamo, which was awesome,” Gross said. “That’s going to motivate us going into the playoffs because we still have that hunger. We’re not burnt out at all. If anything we’re even more fired up.”
The Raiders got off to a bit of a rough start with practicing in cohorts and losing some players to quarantining, but now they’re back at full strength and peaking at the right time. They never knew if and when their season would be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now they’re just looking for a successful playoff run, which began in the quarterfinals against No. 9 Ardsley on Thursday, Nov. 19.
“Once the team came together we could tell they clicked,” Genovese said. “The dynamic was great. Our senior leadership with 13 seniors was so helpful in taking our underclassmen under their wings. I just don’t think they took any training session or game for granted at all. Everyone was so excited to get this season underway, especially after the spring for those who couldn’t play.
“I think they really embraced this opportunity we had to go out there and play and while we were trying to be as safe as possible, our intensity level has just been insane. It’s been off the charts.”
When they needed to scramble, the Raiders did just that. When they needed the big goal or save, they got it. Now they just need to play their game as they look to win three games and a Section 1 region championship.
“We lifted each other up,” Gross said. “If we can get through that I think we can get through anything, so I’m excited for playoffs.”
Note: The Raiders topped Ardsley 6-2 in the quarterfinals on Thursday evening, Nov. 19.