DUNKIRK - It can be argued that a loss is felt more by the Maple Grove Lady Red Dragons' players, coaches and fans than it is for most other teams.
And the reason behind it is simple: they just haven't lost all that often of late.
Over the past two seasons Maple Grove has gotten off to lightening-quick starts and then sustained that momentum throughout much of the year. In 2011, they began 17-0 and captured a league title; in 2012, they started 18-0 and, as before, captured a league title.
Maple Grove’s Alex Novotny, right, and Allegany-Limestone’s Cortnie Vaughn battle for possession of the ball during Wednesday’s Section 6 Class C semifinal at Dunkirk High School. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photo by Rob Tucker
The only problem is, in those two seasons, the Lady Red Dragons' built long winning streaks only to suffer untimely defeat at the exact same point - the Section 6 Class C semifinals.
Last year it was a 1-0 defeat on the turf at Pioneer High School.
This time around, it was a 2-1 loss to top-seeded Allegany-Limestone on the turf at Dunkirk High School.
"It stings," Maple Grove coach Mike Burr said of the loss. "That finality of knowing you're not going to play any more games this season, it's tough. The girls take it hard, I think everybody does, but these girls take it that much harder."
The loss was just the second suffered by the squad, which entering the contest was ranked No. 5 in the state, in two seasons.
"They've got to keep their heads up," Burr said. "They went through an incredibly tough league season undefeated, which is no small task, and going 18-0 before losing this game is something to be proud of. You look at our record the last two years (35-2) - that's something to be proud of."
On a wet, windy and cold Wednesday night, however, it was the Allegany-Limestone speed that spelled doom for fifth-seeded Maple Grove.
Just five minutes into the game, as the Lady Red Dragons were still figuring out who their marks were, the Lady Gators' Stephanie Foster raced down the right sideline before changing fields to teammate Allison Mehta. The senior, meanwhile, who had run past her defender, found herself alone just outside the area and didn't waste the opportunity, sending a shot just inside the near post past the outstretched arms of a diving Lauren Nickerson for the quick, 1-0 lead.
"Without question (that goal was due to their speed)," Burr said. "I don't think we've played a team that fast this year. It's one thing to play against a couple of girls that are fast, but their whole team was fast. It took us a while to adjust and in the semifinals of the sectionals you've got to be able to adjust much quicker than we did."
Maple Grove, perhaps taken aback by the quick strike, nevertheless responded 10 minutes later as Emma Franczak delivered a corner kick right to teammate Alison Winchester, who headed the ball home for the equalizer.
Once again, however, Allegany-Limestone's speed provided it with a solid scoring opportunity.
As the Lady Gators moved swiftly into Maple Grove territory on the counterattack, Cortnie Vaughn received a leading pass from Brenna Gelen and ran the ball into open space just outside the 18-yard box. Alone and with a clear look at the net, Vaughn delivered a low shot that skipped along the turf past Nickerson to take the 2-1 advantage into the break.
"Give them credit," Burr said. "They played great. I don't think they could have played a better first half, and we didn't play as well as we were capable of. It was unfortunate."
Though Maple Grove, in Burr's estimation, had a stronger second half, by then the damage was already done.
"We played them much better the second half," he said. "We held them 0-0, and if we had only played that well in the first half it could have been a different story."
Instead, it's the Lady Gators (14-2-1) who will be playing for a sectional title on Saturday at Pioneer against No. 2 seed Holland at 4 p.m.