For Delaney Burton, being a freshman on a championship team was unlike anything else she had ever endured in her lifetime. “Coming into the college athlete lifestyle in the middle of a pandemic, I had no idea what to expect”, Burton told me. While the season didn’t go according to plan, it still happened, and in due time.
With CoVID-19 restrictions in New York, almost every single fall sport due to play was pushed back to the spring, regardless of level. Burton told me about the diversity the team still endured with this pushback, but she says it helped the team win the first Empire 8 Championship for Russell Sage.
Burton tells me, “Before the game began, we would practice visualization, seeing ourselves on the field, this helped settle our nerves. We came out of this game with a 2-0 win against Utica.” This win had just occurred after a positive CoVID case on the team. Utica also was the 2019 Empire 8 champion.
Burton also let me in on some other games, stating “We played against St. John Fisher later that week and went down 2-0 at the half and at half time we talked about what we had to do and visualized us doing that. We ended up winning the game 3-2!” Burton gave credit to their visualization strategy once again.
Their first away game was against Nazareth, who has some of the best soccer players in the conference. Burton says, “Traveling to our first away game at Nazareth was a bit different and we were off our game a bit.” Sometimes, those jitters just get to you. The Gators bounced back the following week with a 3-0 win against Alfred, the same score they were on the losing end for the preceding week. This was also the game in which Burton had her first collegiate goal!
Their final regular-season game was against Houghton, and their short 3-2 season left them at the second seed within the Empire 8 for playoffs. Their biggest challenge, Nazareth lost in the first round to Utica with a penalty shootout. This left them with the home-field advantage for the championship game. The stage was set: Utica (5) vs. Sage (2). Even better: Fans were now allowed to attend home games.
Burton told me all about the game, and in great excitement. It felt like I was watching. Burton tells me, “Utica scored the first goal and we were down 1-0 at halftime. We talked about what we would have to do to get a goal in the second half. We took control of the second half passing around Utica, playing to feet, and taking our opportunities on goal. Once we scored the tying goal, the game was all the more intense.”
With a tie in regular time, overtime became golden goal, or the first goal wins. Utica’s first shot was way too high, missing the goal. Burton told me, “On our opportunity down the field, there was a foul in the box resulting in a penalty kick. Hallie Klosterman, #9, took this with ease to win us the game, 2-1. We were now Empire 8 Champions.”
Burton brings me right back to the beginning of the season, saying “This was what we had all been visualizing since that time when covid put us into a 14-day quarantine.” With this being Sage’s first conference championship in any sport since moving to the Empire 8 in 2017, this is something for all Gators to be proud of.
For now, Burton and the Gators wait until next season to see if they can be reigning champions. Keep an eye out for Burton and her team, with training beginning in late August.