Photo: Marina Karalis after winning the playoff game vs. Winchester.
A pair of youngsters scored the biggest goals of the season for both of Belmont High School soccer teams as the boys’ and girls’ in dramatic fashion upset two top five seeds in the first round of the Division 2 North Sectionals on Saturday, Nov. 5.
Freshman Marina Karalis, who spent most of the season on junior varsity, buried a sudden death penalty kick past Winchester junior keeper Silvia Dowdell on the team’s sixth attempt as the Marauders shocked the Sachems, 4-3, in penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw in regular time and after two 10-minute extra periods.
“I actually was really scared [going to the 11-meter penalty spot] but once I put the ball down, I said ‘I can do this,'” said Karalis who was brought up to the varsity after a series of injuries left three starters on the bench.
Over in Concord, Belmont stunned one-loss Concord-Carlisle Regional, 2-1, as sophomore midfielder Seamus Dullaghan tucked in the winning goal past Colonials’ goalie Will Palmer “at the death” in the first 10-minute overtime.
Third time’s a charm as girls’ knock off Sachems
Belmont came to Winchester having been comprehensively defeated in both league matches with the Middlesex League Liberty champions, losing 5-2 on Belmont’s Seniors Night Oct. 25 and 3-0 on their last visit to Winchester on Sept. 27.
“When we found out we were playing Winchester, we were bummed because it was the only team we did not want to play,” said Georgia Parsons, the team’s senior goalkeeper.
“But as we practiced, we just turned it around and took this negative and turned it into a positive,” she said.
With Belmont in an end-of-the-season slump – having gone 0-3-2 in its final five league games – Belmont Head Coach Paul Graham switched the team’s formation to a more defensive 4-4-2 (four back line defenders and four midfielders). The new defensive alignment – with senior co-captain Rachel Berets, junior Natalie Marcus Bauer and sophomores Emily Dexter and Megan Tan – filled in space on the field which the Sachems exploited in the earlier matches.
Graham and his assistant, Michelle Henry, also focused on speed, placing the Cella sisters – senior co-captain Julia (a state finalist in track) and sophomore Olivia – on the wings to keep the Sachems defense from targeting league scoring champion junior Carey Allard.
In the front of midfielders junior Emma Sass and senior Anna Alibrandi, sophomore Ella Gagnon used her size and speed to clog passing lanes and act as a second outlet for the offense.
The changes proved effective as Belmont shut down Winchester’s scoring stalwarts, senior Yasmine Boukari and junior striker Kate Ryan, for the first 40 minutes, playing what Graham called “the best half we’ve played all season” as the Marauders held the hosts to a scoreless draw at halftime.
Winchester, who came in with 13 wins (13-4-2), was able to keep the ball in Belmont’s end “but like the [New England] Patriots, while we did bend, we did not break in the back,” said Graham.
“It’s tournament, and everyone is so focused,” said Parson.
Belmont’s defense was breached early in the second half on a set piece as Ryan headed in a loose ball off a corner with 35 minutes remaining in the game.
But in just 145 seconds the Marauders had its equalizer from Allard who, despite being drapped by senior midfielder Phoebe Sauer, hit a 20-meter wonder strike that hit the left corner of the net out of Dowdell’s reach at the 33-minute mark.
A few minutes later, Allard nearly gave Belmont the lead when she was sent in alone against Dowdell only to see her chip sail inches over the crossbar.
The remainder of both the half and both overtimes were physical affairs, with the Sachems willing to throw its weight around and to challenge Belmont’s possession as the Marauders could not find an offensive rhythm, only bothering Winchester on the counter attack.
And the Sachems came close several times to winning it all; the closest was Boukari’s hard shot from her solo run down the right side that Parsons got her fingertips to nudge it just wide of the far post.
With his team feeling the effects of an hour and a half of rough and tumble play and the home team pushing forward, Graham started substituting players with one purpose in mind: get to penalty kicks.
“[Winchester] was dominating us in the final 15 minutes and I told [Henry] ‘I’m going to stall for time so I could get into PKs’,” said Graham.
And Belmont’s reputation when the game is determined at the 11-meter spot is much like the German National Team which hasn’t lost a tournament game on penalties.
“We practice them every practice, not just the shotters but our goalies. And I just knew [Parsons] would get one,” said Graham.
“All I knew is that I was ready. We always practice penalty kicks at the end of practice, and I know my abilities, and I knew I was going to be able to stop a shot. I really believed in myself,” said Parsons.
Despite misses by Allard (a save) and Drew Bates (over the crossbar), Julia Cella, Sass and Berets scored to tie the score at three goals after the mandatory five shots.
On Wnchester’s sixth kick, Parsons dove left and parried senior Isabel Bush’s shot just past the post.
It was then up to Karalis who received last second words of encouragement from Allard before striding up and placing a well-placed shot well beyond Dowdell’s reach.
“I looked at the goalie, and I looked left, but I shot it right, so I tried to trick her,” said the ninth-grader.
When asked why he selected the only freshman on the team to take such an important attempt, Graham said “I have confidence in her. Some of the kids asked not to shot, and I respect that. So after the fifth shot, I went over to Marina and said, ‘You’re sixth, ‘ and she did the job.”
As for the game, Graham – who last year won his 300th game as Marauders head coach – expressed the victory in the simplest of phrases.
“Another state victory. I love it,” he said with a smile.
Belmont next plays at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 8, Election Day, against Boston Latin. The game will be played at Boston English High School on the Jamaica Plain/Roxbury line in Boston.
Boys’ Send Colonials’ Packing
After falling behind 1-0 at half-time, Belmont picked up the pace and began dominating the second half as its defense, led by senior co-captain Edward Stafford, put the clamps on the Colonial forwards.
“In the first half, we were playing to the other team’s strengths like balls in the air,” said senior striker Daron Hamparian.
“At halftime, we realized that we need to play to our strengths which include passes on the ground to succeed,” said the team co-captain who hit the top left post on a free kick from 30 meters just minutes before the team’s opening goal.
The Marauders’ first goal was a thing of beauty as keeper Nate Espelin’s long goal kick was gathered by Belmont’s stylish midfielder Luckson Dambo whose pinpoint through ball found junior Marc Musser who finished with a flourish to tied up the score.
The Marauders relied on Espelin to keep the Marauders in the game as the junior made an acrobatic stop on Colonial defender Will Tappen a minute before the tying score.
With the match appearing to head to a second overtime period, Belmont put the game away on the counter. Dullaghan’s initial shot on goal off a Hamparian cross was blocked by a defender. The bouncing ball was picked up by junior Jake Carson who slotted it towards the net. The shot was deflected by Palmer and hit the post, rebounding out to Dullaghan who tapped it in with less than a minute remaining.
“We played hard for a full 88 minutes, and it worked out in the end. It was a true team effort that we feel will propel us to the next game,” said Hamparian.
Belmont next plays Masco Regional in Topsfield on Tuesday, Election Day, Nov. 8 at 2 p.m.