The Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy girls soccer team had two very important pieces of business to attend to last week.
First, the Lady Tigers needed to knock off Clinton in their regular-season finale to wrap up the Bronx B North Division title. Second, once the Public School Athletic League playoffs commenced, they needed to find a way to post a victory in their postseason opener and advance past the first round for the first time in several seasons.
Done and done.
A pair of goals by Zeynep Sonmez and one apiece from Lucy Mandel and Angelis Hennessey helped get the job done against Clinton as RKA posted a 4-0 victory to clinch the division crown. Then four days later, second-half goals by Miranda Olivares and Julia Miranti helped snap a 2-2 halftime deadlock as the Lady Tigers rallied for a 4-2 victory over American Studies in their first-round playoff game.
Not a bad week to be a Lady Tiger.
“When we were tied at halftime, we talked about that we were no worse off than we were at the start of the game with the score tied,” RKA head coach Julienne Krause said. “We knew we could score on them, so mostly we just talked about communication because I think our nerves were high at first. But we did settle down, especially in the second half.”
Hennessey got the Lady Tigers on the board for an early 1-0 lead. But two goals by American Studies coupled with one from RKA’s Mandel sent the game into halftime tied at 2.
But then Olivares and Miranti went to work, and RKA finally had its first playoff win since reaching the PSAL B championship game four seasons ago.
“I didn’t realize it until Zeynep was congratulating the girls after the game and saying the school hadn’t made it this far in the playoffs in a while,” Krause said. “Not since we made our run to the championship game. So we were really proud of ourselves.”
The fact that RKA notched that elusive playoff win should come as little surprise as the Lady Tigers came into the postseason as one of the hottest teams on the circuit. Since losing its only regular-season game to Truman on Sept. 12, RKA had reeled off eight straight victories coming into the playoffs, outscoring its opponents 40-0.
“I think that loss to Truman made us realize that we needed to work harder if we wanted to win the division,” Mandel said. “That was our goal coming into this season.”
“It was kind of an eye-opener for us,” Sonmez said. “We knew that we had a chance to beat all our opponents, but it made us realize we needed to work and practice harder.”
Krause saw a change in her team following the loss to Truman that helped fuel the Lady Tigers’ run to their title and beyond.
“It made us refocus,” Krause said. “Truman just outplayed us that day. So we talked about what our goals were, which were winning the league and getting to the playoffs. So we’re like, ‘OK, we have to work harder for it now. Let’s go.’”
Both Mandel and Sonmez, a pair of senior leaders, believe RKA is playing at the peak of its game right now.
“I think we’ve improved a lot since the start of the season,” Mandel said. “A lot of new girls came in and we really didn’t know how to work together. But we came together as a team, and we’re really on a good roll right now.”
The ninth-seeded Lady Tigers beat eighth-seeded Health Professions on Monday 3-0, and are set to take on Maspeth on Wednesday. And while RKA knows it has to take a “one-game-at-a-time” approach in the postseason, Mandel and Sonmez are hoping for a long and memorable run in their final season together at RKA.
“We’ve been together on this team for four years, so ever since I was a freshman, all I’ve wanted to do was win the division and win in the playoffs,” Mandel said. “Now that we’re here, it’s still my goal. And I want us to have a great run.”