BY J. PATRICK EAKEN | MIRROR SPORTS — The Anthony Wayne girls soccer team made its second straight trip to the Division I state final four, but this year perennial power Strongsville prevented the Generals from reaching the state championship game.
AW, the defending state runners-up, fell to Strongsville, 4-1, in a state semifinal at Lexington High School on November 10.
Although AW did not make a repeat trip to the state championship, AW coach Lori Williams delivered a strong message to her girls after the game ended.
“I just said to the girls that the hurt they are feeling right now is because of the passion that they put in – it’s a direct correlation,” Williams said.
“It hurts a lot right now because of the heart and passion they put into the season and into the team. My message to them was to make sure you let yourself feel that, but this does not define you,” Williams continued.
“Instead, we have to get better where it hurts. Whether it’s coming back in soccer or going into college, we can always learn from the opportunities that we are given and if we don’t make the most of them, then we learn from them.
“And as long as we learn from them, I think tonight was a success,” added Williams.
This year’s AW team was much different than last year’s – 12 key seniors graduated and there were only two seniors on this year’s team with a handful of players who came into the season with extended varsity experience.
Williams loved the way her team played until the final minute, even scoring to prevent a shutout.
“I love the fight in our girls right to the end,” Williams said.
AW’s season ends at 14-4-3 and the Generals were Northern Lakes League co-champions, district champions and regional champions.
Strongsville went on to win its fifth state championship, which is second-most in girls soccer.
On Friday night at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, the Mustangs defeated Lewis Center Olentangy (18-3-2) 3-1. After outshooting AW 19-4 Tuesday, Strongsville outshot Olentangy, 22-4, on Friday.
The Mustangs finished the season 20-0. They also have been a state runner-up four times and reached the state final four 13 times.
This year, they were ranked second in the final D-I state coaches’ poll and third nationwide.
“They are the No. 3 team in the nation for a reason. They are a fantastic program and they showed it again tonight,” Williams said.
During the season, AW was one of only two teams to score twice on Strongsville, losing 3-2 on September 12. Akron Archbishop Hoban lost to Strongsville, 3-2, in the Mustangs’ regional final win.
Williams thought the first half of the state semifinal game looked a lot like their regular-season matchup, but the second half the game got away from AW.
“The game actually felt the same. It was very even in the early moments and then there were moments where they had us on our heels,” Williams said.
In the first half, Strongsville outshot AW 8-3, but non-goalie saves by AW junior defenseman Amelia Womack, junior defender Jenna Rybicki and senior midfielder Shelby Myers kept the Mustangs in check.
Williams said her defensive backline was doing a good job communicating and keeping Strongsville senior forward Shelby Sallee from dominating offensively.
“Our goal was to try and keep Shelby in check and I thought we had a little bit of difficulty in doing that,” Williams said.
“It was the way they pressed. It was not anything that we were not doing. Kudos to them. I thought they had a great game.”
In the first half, Sallee did great three shots on breakaways, but did not score.
It was senior midfielder Sarah Robertson who got the only first-half goal, one-timing a rebound off a free kick taken by the Mustangs just outside the goalkeeper’s box.
Robertson’s score came just five minutes and 13 seconds after the opening kickoff.
For AW, junior forward Alaina Uncapher had two shots on goal and Rybicki had one. Rybicki had a second scoring opportunity, but her shot went wide.
The second half saw a strong wind, which was in AW’s favor the first half, pick up as storms approached and that added further to the Generals’ dilemma as Strongsville took advantage.
Strongsville outshot AW 11-1 over the final 40 minutes, plus AW starting junior goalkeeper Caitlin Mohler was injured and had to come out of the game for the final 19:09.
Strongsville was whistled for two yellow cards in the second half and was also whistled for eight fouls to AW’s two, but it was not enough to help the Generals.
Much of the second half was played in AW’s defensive zone, with Strongsville getting seven corner kicks to AW’s zero.
Strongsville senior midfielder Peyton Felton scored on a free kick from directly outside the box four minutes and 38 seconds into the second half to put the Mustangs up, 2-0.
“You know, I thought that Strongsville did a great job of coming out and had a ton of energy, just controlled the game for the first couple minutes and then put one on us on a free kick,” Williams said.
“That was really difficult to backtrack from and for them to score again early in the second half, it was difficult.”
The Mustangs took advantage of Mohler’s replacement, sophomore Hannah Johnson, who had left the box to retrieve a wayward ball.
However, a Strongsville forward got her foot on a slow roller that found its way into an empty net with 14:38 remaining, putting the Mustangs up 3-0.
Over a minute later, junior midfielder Libby Majka got the Mustangs’ fourth goal on the night, giving her team a 4-0 cushion with 13:09 left.
AW junior midfielder Payton Miller scored AW’s lone goal on a penalty kick with 36.2 seconds remaining.
Miller booted the ball past Strongsville freshman goalkeeper Abby Kulda and into the upper left corner of the net.
That was AW’s lone shot on goal the second half. Rybicki had a third scoring opportunity in the second half, but her shot went wide, just missing the side crossbar.