Going 18-0-1 in any season, and winning a Division III District Championship in said season, is pretty sweet.
However, when a team earns the opportunity to knock off a team that ended its season the year prior, that only sweetens the pot.
On Tuesday evening, the Wheelersburg Pirates’ girls soccer program will get an opportunity to exact revenge — and play for an OHSAA Final Four berth in the process for the first time in the short history of the program with a win — when the Lady Pirates take to Waverly’s turf once again to face Lynchburg-Clay on Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. in Waverly.
For fourth-year head coach Todd Jarvis, it’s no secret who the Lady Pirates are trying to do: dethrone the queen. Lynchburg-Clay has proven to be the standard program in the Southeast District, as evidenced by its Division III Final Four appearance in 2016. Wheelersburg fell to the Lady Mustangs, 6-1, in its first regional tournament appearance back in 2016.
“Lynchburg-Clay has been the benchmark for Southeast District girls soccer for a long time,” Jarvis said. “We’re not surprised at all to see them where they’re at, and we’re certainly glad to be where we are. Last year, they were a great team. We found ourselves in that position for the first time, and I think that we were caught off-guard by it. When you’re caught off-guard by a really good team, they take advantage of that.
To properly defend Lynchburg-Clay’s attack, Wheelersburg will have to defend a well-balanced unit that doesn’t initiate its attack from just one person, according to Jarvis. The Lady Mustangs’ Peyton Scott leads the unit with a monstrous 42-goal, seven-assist effort en route to 91 points on the year, but three additional hands, including Kaylee Lunsford, Angela McLaughlin, and Riley Creditt, each have at least 13 goals and seven assists to their credit. Savannah Cochran, who leads the team with 13 assists, along with Taiyler Marcelino and Isabelle Brinkman, who have combined for 15 assists on their own, round out a unit that shares the ball effectively.
“They move the ball extremely well around the field,” Jarvis said. “We’ve seen them play a few times this season. It’s not like going into a certain match during the year where your focus is totally around shutting down one player. Peyton Scott has done a lot of their scoring, and she’s a great finisher who is a dynamic force on their team, but the ball gets to her feet from other people, and that’s where the distribution comes up. (Angela) McLaughlin is a dynamic midfield player, too. Overall, They’ve got great ball skills. They’re just a good team. When we have our conversations about them, we don’t just talk about one player, because they have several players who have made and can make a huge impact.”
However, Wheelersburg’s unit has proven to be more than up for the challenge. The Lady Pirates, who have only allowed more than two goals just twice all season long — a 7-3 victory over Division II Waverly and a 3-3 tie against Albany Alexander — have an experienced backline that includes Chelsee Steele, Sydney White, Jordan Jennings, and Mckailyn Wamsley, among others. Last, but not least, there’s sophomore Morgan Bivens, who has proven to be nothing short of outstanding this year with 63 saves en route to leading Wheelersburg to a 0.79 goals against average in 2017.
“We’ve been stingy with the number of shots in goal that we’ve allowed,” Jarvis said. “It’s not just one person that does that. There’s a whole group that works to slow that process down. Morgan Bivens is only a sophomore, and she’s done a great job for us. We’re confident in her.”
Offensively, Wheelersburg, who has scored an incredible 132 goals en route to a strong 6.95 goals-for-average, has scored six or more goals in 13 of its 19 contests behind an attack that has proven to be nothing short of relentless. Madison Humble, a midfielder who has shown off excellent ball control skills, leads the Lady Pirates with 34 goals and 23 assists on her own, but Libby Miller (23 goals, eight assists), Christen Risner (15 goals, 13 assists), and Lyndlee Willis (17 goals, seven assists) have also emerged as primary scoring threats in obtaining 54, 43, and 41 points, respectively.
But even outside of its main quartet, Wheelersburg has plenty of girls that Lynchburg-Clay will have to stop, especially when you factor in the abilities of Laney Eller (nine goals, seven assists), Sophie Hagans (12 assists, six goals), and Steele (nine goals, three assists). Ellie Kallner’s four goals round out a strong offensive unit that has seen a different player step up and take the bulk of the load on a game-by-game basis.
“When they have a conversation about our team, I believe that they have to talk about several players,” Jarvis said. “That’s the great thing about being in the position that we’re in. Like I told the girls, we’re a good team. Lynchburg-Clay just can’t concentrate on one particular player or take one facet away from us, because we have several girls who have double-digit goals and several girls who have posted a lot of assists. We can come at you from a lot of different ways, so hopefully, we’ll be able to demonstrate that (on Tuesday).”
However, as Jarvis is well aware of, the game goes well beyond a physical aspect. And with units as talented as these two, it could very well be the mental aspect of the game that decides things on Tuesday evening.
“I believe that the key for us will be to manage our emotions and keep tabs on our assignments,” Jarvis said. “Little mistakes become more magnified as you move further up in the tournament. It’s going to be about who can make the fewest mistakes, who can take advantage of the mistakes, and who can finish when the opportunity is there. It’ll be a hard-fought match across the board. I don’t believe that one particular area of the field is going to determine where the game is won or lost at. It’ll be a fun and entertaining match to watch.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT