With the regular season all said and done, the boys and girls Section 6 soccer playoff schedules were announced on Saturday afternoon and, not surprisingly, a number of area teams drew high seeds.
In the boys brackets, once-beaten Randolph (15-1) earned the top seed in Class C and a bye into the quarterfinals on Friday, where the Cardinals will host either eighth-seeded Portville (5-10-1) or No. 9 Tapestry-Maritime of the Independent League at 3:30 p.m.
While Randolph, which hasn't lost in 14 straight games and is in the midst of an unheard of 10-game shutout streak during which it has outscored opponents a whopping 36-0, is the favorite to capture the sectional title given its defensive prowess, it won't be an easy road.
Clockwise, from top left, Maple Grove’s David Meekins, Ellicottville’s Morgan Zlockie, Southwestern’s Tyler Bell, Frewsburg’s Sam Mann, Randolph’s Dustin Botzenmayer and Maple Grove’s Dana Jones are the among the players who will lead their respective teams into the Section 6 soccer playoffs, which begin this week.
First they'll have to contend with, should Portville move on, the Panthers, who were the last team to score on the Cardinals back on Sept. 13 (a 4-3 loss). Then, later, they could square off against fellow state-ranked Maple Grove (No. 12 according to the New York State Sportswriters Association, Randolph is No. 11), a two-seed, in the finals.
Maple Grove owns a similarly impressive record at 14-1 with a plus-43 goal differential. A number of teams stand in the Red Dragons' path to the finals, however. Among them are No. 7 and rival Frewsburg, No. 10 Chautauqua Lake, No. 3 Allegany-Limestone, No. 6 Salamanca and No. 14 Cassadaga Valley.
A Frewsburg-Maple Grove matchup - always a contentious battle - seems likely in the quarterfinals on Friday.
It's been a longtime goal of Southwestern coach Mark Sleggs to host a playoff game on his home turf at Charles A. Lawson Field, and with a strong cast of players both on defense (Justin Loverme, among others) and up front (Tanner Hoose, Ross Beresford and Tristan Desnerck, to name a few), the Trojans (13-1-2) finally accomplished that goal this season, earning a two-seed and a bye into the quarterfinal round of Class B-2.
That game, against either No. 7 Fredonia or No. 10 Royalton-Hartland, is slated to begin at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, though that could change as Sleggs had noted earlier this week he would be requesting the section's permission to move the start time to 6:30 p.m.
A Fredonia victory in the prequarterfinals would make it a can't-miss match on Friday, and though Southwestern has gotten the better of the Hillbillies (9-6) in both previous meetings this season - Fredonia has yet to score against the Trojans - Sleggs has said that the two squads are evenly matched.
Looming in the path of a Southwestern sectional title, however, is No. 1 Lackawanna, which has gone a perfect 11-0 this season in Erie County Interscholastic Conference Division 4 play. Those two teams could meet in the finals at Pioneer on Nov. 1 at 5 p.m.
As has been the usual over the past few years, Ellicottville earned the top seed in Class D in the girls playoffs. The Lady Eagles, who finished the season at 13-2-1, earned an automatic berth into the semifinals on Oct. 27 at Pioneer High School and are looking to capture their third straight sectional title and a third straight trip to the state final four.
With a semifinal bout with the winner of the West Valley (4-8-2)-Pine Valley (5-10-1) prequarterfinal and a title match against No. 2 North Collins (6-7) or No. 3 Panama (6-9), the Lady Eagles have a good shot at winning the section once again.
The Class C bracket, meanwhile, is loaded with area teams and promises a number of thrilling games.
Leading the way is Maple Grove, which despite taking its third straight league title and going a perfect 16-0, is the fifth seed. The Lady Red Dragons, led by goalkeeper Lauren Nickerson's 12 shutouts, hope to improve upon last year's performance when they reached the Class C semifinals before falling to eventual Section 6 champion Frewsburg.
Maple Grove opens postseason play at home against No. 12 Barker (3-12), at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
Salamanca, last season's runnerup, is No. 8 and welcomes No. 9 Randolph (7-7-2) in the opening round. The victor from that game moves on to face the bracket's top seed, Allegany-Limestone, on Thursday.
Defending champion Frewsburg, at 11-4-1, is the sixth-seed and hosts No. 11 Chautauqua Lake (5-7-1) in its first-round match. A semifinal matchup with No. 2 Holland (13-2), which has reached the sectional title game in each of the past three seasons, is likely for the Bears.
Finally, in Class B, No. 13 Southwestern hosts No. 20 Maryvale on Monday at 3:30 p.m., and with a win will move on to the quarterfinals against No. 4 Wilson.
Falconer, at 9-4-3, is the eighth seed and earned a home playoff game as well, this time against No. 9 Eden (12-4).