BY J. PATRICK EAKEN | MIRROR SPORTS — After putting up 38 points on 12 goals and 14 assists, Anthony Wayne junior midfielder Brynn Gardner is a first-team Division I All-Ohio selection.
AW coach Lori Williams says it is “awesome” that Gardner was honored in voting by Ohio’s D-I coaches.
Gardner led the team in scoring and is also first-team all-district, first-team All-Northern Lakes League and the NLL Co-Player of the Year.
She also led the team to a 14-4-3 season and second straight berth in the state final four, where AW lost to eventual state champion and No. 2 state-ranked and No. 3 nationally ranked Strongsville (20-0), 4-1 in a state semifinal.
AW, ranked 12th in the final Division I state coaches’ poll, also shared the NLL title with 10th-ranked Perrysburg and Northview, with all three finishing 5-0-2 in league play.
Williams said league play helped develop her players for the tournament.
“I think every league game for us is really, really important, and even the games that we didn’t win were super important for our growth,” Williams said.
“Even tying Perrysburg and Northview – they were really, really good teams. So, every game taught us a little bit more about ourselves so that when we were ready for the playoffs, we were that much more prepared for that fast play.
“It’s really hard to explain to a kid who has never played varsity soccer how fast a varsity game is, and you try to explain to them, ‘Yeah, as nice as this season has been, in the playoffs, it goes faster,’ and it did.
“It’s really hard to explain to kids who haven’t been there what that feels like and what that is like,” Williams added.
AW went on to defeat the Yellow Jackets, 1-0, in a regional semifinal after the two teams played to a scoreless draw during the regular season.
For Williams, scoring on Perrysburg (14-2-4) and at the same time shutting them out was huge because the Yellow Jackets had scored 57 goals during the season and gave up only 19.
“(Perrysburg coach) Jorge (Diaz) does such a great job,” Williams said.
“They were also extremely young, and they really built that team around (senior center back) Jessica Gast. They did such a great job this year. I was really impressed with the product they put on the field,” Williams said.
There were plenty of other awards to go around, including to first-team All-NLL selections Alaina Uncapher, a senior forward who had 10 goals and nine assists, and junior goalkeeper Caitlin Mohler, who had 124 saves in leading the team to school-record 11 shutouts.
Earning second-team All-NLL was junior defenseman Sophia Schneider (four goals, six assists) and junior midfielder Payton Miller (four goals, two assists).
Junior forward Carli Miller (eight goals, eight assists) and junior defenseman Jenna Rybicki (two goals) were third-team All-NLL.
In district voting, Uncapher is first-team, Mohler is second-team and Schneider is third-team.
Williams says those awards do not come close to demonstrating how her group of young players succeeded on the field, especially for the defensive players who might get steals and interceptions, but do not score as much.
“I don’t put much stock on those, to be honest. I have an opinion of our kids and where they are and I always feel like it always undersells the importance of some of the other players on the team who have had maybe as big a year but didn’t have the stats,” Williams said.
“Those are things, like outside backs and center mids – what they do does not always show up on the stat line, but they are just as important.
“You know, I’m very happy and humbled by how many kids got honors, but in the same breath, every time I got to those meetings, that’s great for all those kids who got honors, but it’s not critical to our success about who all got on it.”
Three of the team’s four losses came to eventual state champions – 3-2 to Strongsville during the regular season and the state semifinal loss, and 4-1 to Division II state champion Mansfield Madison.
“Our goal for the season was to get a little better every day, and I thought we had a relatively young team, so that was a pretty big ask, especially with the schedule that we have,” Williams said.
“You look at our four losses and three of them were to eventual state champions, the D-I and D-II state champion, and the fourth one was to Ashland (2-1), which we avenged (2-1 district final). So, that shows a ton of growth and maturity for the girls.”
Williams said there were reasons for the team’s improvement, but most important was getting to play together as a unit.
“I really thought the passing got better, but I think that was in really large part due to the chemistry getting better,” Williams said.
“You take a team that was half of last year’s varsity team and half of last year’s JV team and add in a few freshmen here and there, and it’s going to take them some time to understand the timing of runs and the pace they are going to run at, and those kinds of things,” Williams continued.
“I think obviously our passing improved, but I kind of chalk a lot of that up to them getting to know each other a little bit.”