BY J. PATRICK EAKEN | MIRROR SPORTS — The Anthony Wayne girls soccer team is heading back to the Division I state final four after holding on to defeat Avon, 1-0, on Saturday in a regional final.
The Generals do not take lightly winning a second straight regional championship, especially since it came on Avon’s field.
“It’s a really big win, but we’re not done yet,” said AW junior midfielder Brynn Gardner. “We are still writing our story.”
AW won both of its regional games 1-0 and in four tournament games have outscored opponents, 16-2. AW, ranked 12th in the final D-I state coaches’ poll, moves on to the state tournament 14-3-3, while Avon bows out at 13-4-4.
“It means everything, especially my junior year, it’s so exciting to get here again,” said AW junior defender Jenna Rybicki, who scored the winning goal against Avon.
The Generals, defending state runners-up, got a goal from Rybicki just three minutes and 19 seconds after the opening kickoff, and then the defense held the Eagles in check.
After the Eagles were whistled for a foul, Rybicki directed a free kick from 37 yards out into the upper left corner of the net, just above the outstretched arms of Avon freshman goalkeeper Ariano Vakos.
“You know, I knew right away, my coach told me where to put it and I knew what I needed to do to get that in at that moment,” Rybicki said.
AW coach Lori Williams added, “That was great to get that from 36 (yards) and some change, so to get that goal was pretty phenomenal.”
Rybicki nailed another free kick in similar fashion from nearly the same distance a few minutes later, but officials called it off because the AW junior booted the ball before they were ready to resume play.
“We talked about setting the tone early, so what a great game it was, but what a finish by Rybicki, who actually finished one-and-a-half times (counting the called-off goal),” Williams said.
Scoring on set plays like Rybicki’s free kick had been well-rehearsed by the Generals.
“During practice, we make sure we get set plays in and make sure we prep for it every game,” Rybicki said.
“It’s so important because every moment counts in these types of games, and it ended up so close at 1-0. We just had to take advantage of that moment,” Rybicki continued.
The Eagles remained relentless throughout the remaining 76-plus minutes of the match, but AW’s defense held steady, preserving the Generals’ 10th shutout of the season.
“We knew right away that we had to hold off because after we got the goal, we had the momentum and we had to keep it up,” Rybicki said.
Williams said the Generals did not change their defensive strategy after Rybicki’s goal, so there was no packing in the goalkeeper’s box or back line.
“We stayed the course,” Williams said. “We stayed the same way with what we had scripted before the game.”
However, part of that defensive success was girls maintaining position, finding ways to intercept passes and get steals when the opportunity arose.
“We talked about the fact that we knew what they were going to play, by keeping the ball, and we knew they were going to do that. They are such a good team,” Williams said.
“It was good for us to counter that wide, calming it down. We just played big, and we knew that was going to be difficult,” Williams continued.
Williams said the defense works on blocking out the opponent’s offensive players, which limits scoring opportunities.
“We just talk about organization and making sure we know what that looks like in what situations because it changes every time,” Williams said.
“If we have the ball, if we don’t have the ball and all that, we talk about body shape and things like that.”
In the first half, Avon outshot AW 6-4, but junior goalkeeper Caitlin Mohler had five saves and one shot went just wide of the net.
In the second half, AW outshot Avon 5-4 with Mohler getting three more saves; and on a fourth Avon opportunity, the Eagles just missed the net.
AW junior forward Alaina Uncapher led her team with five shots, including four on goal and one shot that missed wide.
Meanwhile, AW had five corner kicks to Avon’s one, and although AW had three first-half free kicks, all taken by Rybicki, to Avon’s one, Avon had seven free kicks to AW’s four in the second half.
Last year, the Generals went undefeated and untied during the regular season, finishing the regular season 16-0 for the first time in school history.
They went on to finish 22-1, losing in the state championship on a last-second shot by West Chester Lakota West.
That team made it the state final with 11 seniors, but this year’s team has just two seniors and only a handful of players who came into the season with extended varsity experience.
“We have a relatively young roster, so a lot of these people were even key parts of it as ball people or people in the stands,” Williams said.
“I’m so incredibly proud of the girls and to be back in the state final four is special,” Williams continued.
The Generals traveled to Lexington, Ohio, on Tuesday to take on No. 2-ranked and undefeated Strongsville (18-0) in a state semifinal. That score was not yet available as The Mirror went to press.
If AW defeated the Mustangs, the Lady Generals will move on to the championship facing either Lewis Center Olentangy (17-2-2) or No. 6 Centerville (21-1-1) at the Columbus Crews’ MAPFE Stadium on Friday, Nov. 13 at 7:00 p.m.