After winning last season’s Section 9 Class C championship against rival Millbrook Blazers, the S.S. Seward Girls Soccer team was more than excited for this year’s match-up.
Last season, the top-seeded Seward Spartans met the third-seeded Blazers in the final. The Spartans dethroned the two-time defending champion in a tight game 4–2. The match was tied at 1 through regulation, went into double overtime and two golden-goal periods. Seward persevered with the win on a penalty kick by Zoe Babock.
Late at night and under non-stop rain, the Spartans won their first title since 2015.
All eyes on April 19 then ....
This season, Seward advanced to the final match with both a stellar record (9-1-1) and the exhilaration that comes with challenging your rival in the championship. Following April 18th’s Sunday morning win over Sullivan West, Seward set their eyes on Monday’s game (April 19th) , which was to be hosted by Millbrook.
Remembering last year’s close game, and seeing the Blazers perform just as well in their regular season (9-0-1), the Spartans were “ready to go,” according to head coach Joe DiMattina.
But mere hours after the Sunday match, and only a night before the would-be championship, the Seward Girls Soccer team was told to quarantine.
DiMattina had been exposed to COVID-19 after a family member tested positive.
Orange County Health Department protocols enforce quarantine after potential exposure, and thus the entire girls soccer team was told to isolate.
Hours spent trying to figure out how to still play
After each player received a phone call from the school nurse, DiMattina texted an explanation to the team.
“Coach said he had been on the phone for three hours, talking to people, trying to figure out how we could still play,” said senior and captain Morgan Kelly.
He had tried to advocate for somebody else to coach the girls’ match, but it was deemed too risky by Health Department for the team to play.
“I had talked to the Orange County Health Department,” DiMattina said, “but because I had seen the girls the past three days, they were already exposed — so nobody else could have stepped in and coached them.”
The last time DiMattina had seen his players was Sunday’s game, just 24 hours before the scheduled championship.
Seward, therefore, had to withdraw from the championship match, and forfeit their Section 9 title to the Millbrook Blazers.
The false security of vaccination
The misfortune of the scenario is only exacerbated when realizing that DiMattina, who recently tested positive for COVID-19 after his exposure, was vaccinated four weeks beforehand with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The J&J vaccine is currently on pause after it was linked to six cases of rare blood clotting.
Stepping up after weeks of cancellations and rescheduling
“The girls had a really good season,” said DiMattina. “After weeks of cancellations and rescheduling, they organized their lives around soccer, and stepped up. I know they were looking forward to this match because we usually see Millbrook in the finals and we beat them last year.”
Last year’s hard-fought final set a thrilling precedent for 2021’s match-up, and so the anti-climactic and abrupt end to the season was a hard pill to swallow.
‘It was going to be a good match’
“We were feeling really confident going into our match with Millbrook,” Kelly explained. “We knew they were really good and had a lot of returners, so it was going to be a good match. We all were so devastated when we realized we couldn’t play.”
“They all had come together as a team this season. It’s disappointing for all the girls, but especially our two seniors,” said Kim Richner, mother of McKenzie, a junior on the team. While they both described it as “a heartbreaking way to end the season,” the girls tried to look at the bright side.
“Soon after we heard the news, there were tons of positive texts in the group chat about how great we played this season, and everyone thanking one another for their hard work,” said Kelly.
Rescheduling during the season, but not for championship
This is not the first time the Seward Spartans have had to quarantine. Earlier in the season, the team missed several games due to COVID-19 exposure, most of which were rescheduled.
Everyone — players, parents, and even Millbrook — had hoped that the same could be done for the championship: for the biggest match and rivalry of the year.
However, Section 9 guidelines prohibited the rescheduling of the game as a delay would infringe on the regular spring sport season.
“When I first got the news” Millbrook coach Jerome Canzoneri told The Poughkeepsie Journal, “it was disappointment and sadness, then happiness, then not knowing what to make of it. We really wanted to play this game and we were ready.”
Through all the delays, rescheduling and movement of a typical fall season to the springtime, the girls stayed focused.
‘We wanted to do it for each other, but also for Coach D’
“Everyone was just itching to get on the field, and we all were pretty motivated. After quarantine and being alone for so long, it was so great to have the team together again,” said Bella Wierzbicki, the other senior on the team. “After last season’s section championship win, we really wanted to do it again and prove ourselves. We wanted to do it for each other, but also for Coach D.”
Kelly echoed the same sentiments: “We all put in so much effort, and there was so much improvement on the team, I wish we could have shown that off in the section finals. But we all just felt lucky to have had a season and one where we played some good games.”
While this may be a disappointing end, Seward is already anticipating success next season.
“The girls were really ready to go this year,” said DiMattina. “But next year - next fall - that season is right around the corner.”