Alex Brasky/Batavia Daily News | Byron-Bergen's Emma Starowitz celebrates her goal with Ava Wagoner and Megan Zwerka-Snyder.

For the first time in program history, the Byron-Bergen girls soccer team is headed to the state semifinal, where it will meet another first-timer, the Carle Place Frogs of Section VIII, which won its first sectional title this fall.

“The team is very excited,” said Byron-Bergen head coach Wayne Hill. “They don’t know what to expect. I guess that’s the beauty of youth. They just want to go play.”

The Bees enter the state final four following a 1-0 win over Frewsburg of Section VI in the Class C Far West Regional, which came after a stunning 3-2 upset of unbeaten Warsaw in the Section V Class C crossover game. Carle Place defeated Port Jefferson, 7-1, in the sectional final and went on to beat Seward, 7-2, in the regional. Saturday’s state semifinal is scheduled for a 10 a.m. kickoff at Homer High School.

“We played a great game against a great Warsaw team and played a physical Frewsburg team and got past them,” added Hill. “We’re ahead of our progression. Two years ago, we lost in the sectional semifinal. Last year, we lost in the finals. This year we won the finals. Progression says that’s where we stop.”

Not so fast. Instead of falling to Warsaw in the Class C crossover game, as many expected them to, the Bees have ignored expectations and propelled themselves within two wins of a coveted state championship.

Most teams that find themselves in B-B’s position have a plethora of high-powered senior athletes at their disposal, as is the case with Carle Place. The Frogs are led by a solid senior trio, including forward Alexandra Feit and midfielders Abigail Lyons and Amanda Leary. In the Class C championship against Port Jefferson, the trio combined to score five of CP’s seven goals in the Frogs’ 7-1 victory.

Conversely, Byron-Bergen is an interesting case, as the Bees have made their way to the state tournament behind several underclasswomen. Eighth-grader Mia Gray, sophomore Mackenzie Hagen and sophomore Emma Starowitz have fueled the B-B attack, with Gray leading the way with 27 goals and 18 assists, while Hagen has chipped in 21 tallies to go with four helpers. Starowitz has found the back of the net on 14 occasions this season while helping assist on 11 goals.

“Mia is driving the team,” said Hill. “She has a calm, level sense about her. She doesn’t get a big head, but she sees the field so well. Our forwards Emma and Mackenzie, are just outstanding. They don’t have similar games. Mackenzie is more speed, and Emma is more grit, and they just complement each other so well. It’s a great thing to watch.”

Gray was honored as the Genesee Region League Player of the Year.

In addition to a potent offense, the Bees also feature a solid defensive unit anchored by senior goalkeeper Brooke Jarkiewicz. The Bees senior has allowed just 12 goals this season while recording a save rate of 90%.

“The defense has just been outstanding,” said Hill. “The starting four (sophomore Megan Zwerka-Snyder, senior Alayna Streeter, freshman Ava Gray and junior Ava Wagoner) they’ve just been rock solid back there. And when we start subbing through, we don’t see any drop-off. The kids in the back have anchored us.”

Byron-Bergen is 19-3 entering Saturday’s semifinal matchup, while Carle Place comes in at 8-4-2. The winner will move on to face either AuSable Valley (Sec. VII) or Elmira-Notre Dame (IV) in the state final.

“We’ve watched some film,” said Hill. “You don’t get to this point by being lucky. I expect a good game.”

Saturday’s semifinal matchup will be broadcast LIVE on the NFHS Network. A subscription is required.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1