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Daly’s offense helps Hamburg get to first final in 21 years

TRACKING THE BALL — Kara Daly (left) and Hamburg fell to Williamsville South in the Class A final Saturday at Amherst. Photo by Michael Petro.
During the two seasons in which Kara Daly has been with the Hamburg varsity girls soccer team, the Bulldogs have made consecutive appearances in the sectional semifinals.

The sophomore helped lead the squad a step further this season, as she scored all three goals, including the overtime game-winner, in the Bulldogs’ run to the final.

After that 3 – 2 win in the second overtime against Grand Island, Hamburg fell 5 – 0 to Class A’s top-seed Williamsville South on Nov. 2 at Amherst, but not before Daly helped the program reach its first title game in 21 seasons.

“The team was all there, all in 100 percent,” Daly said, before the final. ‘Everyone worked real hard and gave it their all, for each other. Everyone’s super excited and we’re all proud [of our accomplishments].”

During the semifinal at Depew, Hamburg scored the winner off a loose ball, following a free kick around the 35-yard-line from defender Grace Palutro. Daly said she lined herself up with where she thought the ball would go, and then chased it down just ahead of the defenders in front of the net, before toe-poking it just by the goal line.

“I saw it before it even happened,” noted Daly, who plays the game year-round, competing out of Syracuse with Empire Academy. “I ended up on the ground, but I did it.” Hamburg Coach Tom Zugger said, “If Daly gets behind the defenders, she’s going to score and that’s what happened.”

Daly scored 33 times and assisted on 11 goals. She has scored 69 goals during two seasons, after missing her eighth grade year, in which she would have played up on varsity, due to an injury.

“She’s doing what she does best and she’s who we rely on to score our goals, but she couldn’t do it without everyone else,” Zugger said. “She’s certainly one of the top scorers in Western New York. We’re extremely lucky to have her and we are where we are today because of her.”

Daly said Hamburg’s played several overtime games, but never to the point of the five 2-minute extra sessions, which are played during only the playoffs, preceding a shootout. Daly said that this was a nerve-wracking time for and her teammates.

Zugger said his team overcame approximately five hobbled players during the game, including Daly, who sat out practice before the final, and junior midfielder Amy Villarini.

Hamburg won its fifth straight game by overcoming not only injuries, but also a 2-goal second half from Grand Island, which erased Hamburg’s lead.

“They should have all been out of the game, but they wanted it and all came back,” Zugger said. “Grand island had the play in the second half, but we came back and carried the play in overtime. To get that final goal was just incredible. You don’t want to go to a shootout.”

Daly and Zugger both credited the play of freshman goalie Julia Whipple in helping Hamburg advance.

“Grand Island has got some really good scorers and one of the best scorers in Western New York and Julia stooped her and did a great job,” Zugger said. “She’s been phenomenal.”

He noted that, while his team came into the game confident, it was the group’s stick-to-itiveness that got it through this game and the grind that the season presented. He added that the team came back three times to tie or win a game that it trailed, at one point, by two goals.

“We came in thinking we were going to upset them, but we knew nobody expected us to and that’s the position we wanted to be in,” he said. “Being up 2 – 0, we still weren’t that confident; I know how many goals Grand Island can score. Even though we gave a couple back in the second half, the girls never give up. I’ve never coached a team in my 15 years that’s been as resilient.”
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