BY JEREMY SCHNEIDER | MIRROR SPORTS — All the way back in early August, Chad Kain knew his Maumee boys soccer squad could accomplish something special this season.
A league title, undefeated season, scoring records, all of it was on the table.
While it might have seemed somewhat “pie in the sky” type talking at the time, Kain couldn’t have been more in tune with what his team could accomplish.
The Panthers wrapped up their regular season last week with a 4-0 win over visiting Lake, giving them the Northern Buckeye Conference title with a 6-0 record and an undefeated 15-0-1 overall mark. Not only that, but Maumee didn’t allow a single goal in NBC play (41-0) and only allowed seven goals all season (101-7).
“It’s amazing,” Kain said. “I’ve coached a long time and won state championships at the youth level, but this is my first conference championship as a high school coach. I told the boys this is as much of a journey for me as it is for them.
“It feels really good. I can’t tell you how proud I am of them. It’s almost like 22 of my own kids, we’ve been together for so long.”
The conference championship was the first for Maumee boys soccer since 1991. For senior goalkeeper Taylor Lewis, the title is the culmination of a long road that started with a two-win season as a freshman.
“It means a lot,” Lewis said. “It’s really crazy, considering where I started freshman year and where the team started.
“We all knew at the beginning of the season we could do this, and I’m really proud of everyone that we pulled this off.”
The Panthers struck first when the Flyers (11-4-1 overall, 4-1-1 NBC) were called for a tripping penalty in the box. Blake Wagener lined up the penalty kick and struck a no-doubter for the 1-0 lead. Later in the half, Austin Dwyer gave Maumee a 2-0 lead with a rocket into the back of the net.
Wagener and Dwyer each would score another goal in the second half.
Almost more impressive than an undefeated record in the NBC and conference championship is the goal differential in league games. Of the seven goals Maumee has allowed overall, all were off set plays, and the Panthers have not played from behind this season.
“If you get behind us, it’s a tough battle,” Kain said.
The Panthers also set season records in goals scored and least goals against. They’re now three wins away from setting the school mark for best record.
“Not conceding a goal is insane, and it definitely wasn’t all me,” Lewis said. “My back line deserves a lot of credit for that.”
Lewis had five saves against the Flyers, giving him 63 for the season.
Those next three wins will have come in the postseason, where Maumee is the No. 1 seed in the Division II district. It opened up on Monday with a home game against Clyde, with the winner facing Central Catholic at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday in the sectional final.
“We’re looking forward to winning the district,” Kain said. “I think we can get past districts – that’s how confident I am in them.
“You have to play the game. We have to be ready from here on out. Our goals are still there.”
Kain thought his team got a good taste of what the postseason will feel like with last week’s game against Lake, where it was winner-take-all.
“It felt like a district championship,” Kain said. “We knew it was win or there was no trophy. That’s gut wrenching, to know you could be 14-1-1 and go home with nothing.
“We had to treat this as a district championship match. Did you want a trophy? Did you want to hang a banner? You see the response we got.”
There have been plenty of talented and successful girls soccer teams over the last 35 years at Maumee, but none have ever won a conference title.
Until last week.
The Panthers rallied from being behind a goal and pushed through playing a man down in the second half to take down Lake, 3-1. Coupled with Eastwood’s win over Oak Harbor, Maumee finished the Northern Buck-eye Conference tied with the Eagles and Rockets at 5-1.
“It’s just unbelievable,” said Panthers coach Jeremiah McNutt. “The way we won it, it’s just even bigger. It was one of the best ways you could win it, but not for me, health-wise.”
The Panthers were down 1-0 to the host Flyers at halftime, but they tied it at 1-1 just 10 minutes into the second half.
Maumee player was sent off the field for an infraction around the same time, however meaning the Panthers had to play without a position over the final 30 minutes of the game.
“During the loss of a player, Cait Smalley took over, knowing exactly what I wanted,” McNutt said. “She set the team up in the positions they need to play in and just took complete control of it.”
Smalley is in her fourth year playing for McNutt, who said she often shifts back to defense and just knew what McNutt wanted before he even had to say anything.
“I just got the girls together and said, ‘We’re going to play a man down, so we’ve got to shift it, change the formation,’ without Jeremiah even knowing,” Smalley said. “I shifted back to defense and I shifted everyone.
“I knew it would work. We have it. We don’t want to lose.”
Goal scorers for Maumee were Julia Findling, Ava Leonard and Evelyn Boyett, while Ainsley Heckman had two assists and freshman goalkeeper Lauren Liwo had five saves.
“Julia and Ava, they really worked their butts off,” Smalley said. “They had six people on Ava and she scored a goal. Everyone put their hearts in it tonight.”
Next up for Maumee (11-6 overall) is the Division II sectional tournament at noon on Saturday, when it will host the winner of Tuesday’s Otsego-Central Catholic matchup. The Panthers beat Otsego, 6-3, and Central Catholic, 6-0, this season.
With its first-ever league title and most wins in a decade, Maumee is heading into the postseason with a head full of steam.
“Everyone supports each other, even if you’re on the bench, even if you played two minutes, everyone brings their all the entire game,” Smalley said. “We’ve been playing together for so long that we know each other, we can read each other immediately.”