WAVERLY — Competitive and physical soccer matches — especially in postseason play — are always fun to behold.
However, Tuesday evening’s OHSAA Division III Regional Semifinal matchup between the girls soccer programs at Lynchburg-Clay and Wheelersburg was, without question, a classic.
For 75 minutes, the Lady Pirates and the Lady Mustangs duked it out back and forth as each defensive backline shut out the opposing offense for the vast duration of the contest.
But despite Wheelersburg’s hard-fought efforts to emerge victorious in the match, a victory — which would’ve avenged a 2016 loss to Lynchburg-Clay on the same stage — a win just wasn’t to be.
After a wonderful advance by the Lady Mustangs in the 76th minute, Riley Creditt collected the ball, gathered, and put together a shot from the edge of the box that found back-netting as Lynchburg-Clay took home a 1-0 win over the Lady Pirates in a heartbreaking result, but a hard-fought contest that represented Wheelersburg’s very best.
And that fact, along with the fact that Wheelersburg finished the 2017 season having obtained its second consecutive appearance at the regional stage in just the fourth year of the program, has Todd Jarvis pleased with the overall progress.
“We anticipated and knew that Lynchburg-Clay was a good group coming in,” Jarvis said. “We were well-prepared, and I believe that the score demonstrates that. We gave them everything that we had. We had a couple of opportunities to score, as did they, and they got one. I thought that it would be a higher-scoring game between these two groups, but defensively, it’s unbelievable the job that these girls did. I’m very proud of what these girls have accomplished. It’s been a great year. It’s disappointing to lose, but I told the girls that they have a lot to be proud of. One game does not define a team. We’re here, we’re glad to be back here, and we hope to be back here again someday.”
From the outset, the contest proved to be a back-and-forth affair as both teams obtained excellent scoring chances early on. A shot in the fourth minute from Lynchburg-Clay’s Taiyler Marcelino, along with return fire from Wheelersburg’s Libby Miller and Christen Risner in the eighth and ninth minutes of play, bounced off the post and missed high and wide of goal, respectively as both teams remained deadlocked.
At that point and on throughout the rest of the first half, both defensive units, behind the play of goalkeepers Morgan Bivens and Serena Smith, were able to control the tempo. Bivens, in particular, made an excellent diving save to stop a Lynchburg-Clay shot in the 35th minute as the duo remained scoreless heading into the halftime break.
“We knew that the middle of the field dictates a lot,” Jarvis said. “We were able to slow their attack, and it became a battle. It was a battle of attrition. Ultimately, it comes down to how the ball bounces. It bounced once way, and Lynchburg-Clay took advantage. That’s what good teams do at this level. It’s all about trying to create a mistake and take advantage of said mistake. Hat’s off to the ladies from Lynchburg-Clay. They’re always well-prepared, and tonight’s performance demonstrates that.”
Over the next 35 minutes of action, both defenses continued to do excellent work as Bivens, Smith, and both defenses kept a clean sheet, with Bivens and Wheelersburg not allowing Lynchburg-Clay to even get so much as a shot off behind the physical play applied by Sophie Hagans and Jordan Jennings among others.
“I’m very proud of our group,” Jarvis said. “They were well-prepared, too. It was everything that we hoped it would be, expect for the result. But it was a great match. It was well-played on both sides. Lynchburg-Clay is well-school, and they’re fundamentally sound. It was clean and well-played on both sides, and hopefully, everybody came out of it injury-free. We wish Lynchburg-Clay well as they represent the Southeast District going forward. There’s a lot to be proud of. I’m proud of each and every girl on this team. They mean a lot to this program, and what the future of this program holds.”
However, in the 75th minute, that all changed.
After a shot by Madison Humble just missed off to the right in the 72nd minute, Risner and Miller nearly collected again in the 75th minute as Miller found Risner running down the right side of the field.
However, Wheelersburg was unfortunately called for an offside call, which marked the second time in the contest that a one-on-one scoring chance was thwarted by such a call. Lynchburg-Clay then immediately came back down the field, and after receiving the advance, Creditt turned, stutter-stepped with the ball twice, and fired a shot home into the lower 90. The Lady Pirates obtained one additional opportunity as Risner nearly found Miller in front of the goal with 58.8 seconds left, but Smith came out of the box to stop the cross just as Miller was running under it to preserve the lead and the win.
Still, the 1-0 loss for Wheelersburg is not a shameful one, by any means, because of the effort that the Lady Pirates brought to the table.
“I ask the girls each time to wish that you couldn’t do something more when you look at yourselves in the mirror,” Jarvis said. “I don’t believe any of our girls can do that. Our girls left everything that they had out on the field. We’re going to work to see if we can’t get back here next year and right this ship against Lynchburg-Clay, because they’re probably going to be back here again. We’ll do what we can to win our way here again.”
And who could doubt that reasoning? Just three short years ago, Wheelersburg, in the first year of the newly founded girls soccer program, was just coming off of its first victory as a program over Albany Alexander. Now, the Lady Pirates, in its fourth year, already have two Division III District Championships to their credit, including an 18-1-1 record and a top-10 state ranking in the sport. With Bivens, Hagans, Jennings, Risner, and Chelsee Steele, among many other hands, coming back, a third certainly isn’t out of the question.
“When we started the program, things like this was wishful thinking,” Jarvis said. “To do this says a lot about the young ladies and the people in the community. The development of a program is not a quick thing, but we’ve had a lot of success in a short time. We’ve got a great youth program, and hopefully, the young girls at Wheelersburg see that as interest starts to kick up. I feel like the girls who benefit the most from the high school program are still in the fifth and sixth grade right now. Those are the girls that parents can invest their future in now, because they have a great place to go.”
But for now, it’s time to bid farewell to the Lucky 13 — that is, the 13 seniors (Lyndlee Wills, Annie Davis, Bailee Fannin, Madison Humble, Katy Todt, Sydney White, Mckailyn Wamsley, Jillian Bowen, Megan Eichenlaub, Sara Campbell, Katelynn Henry, and Rama Somakiah) that have not only helped lay the foundation, but develop the Lady Pirates into a Southeast District powerhouse in girls soccer.
“I told them, ‘When you come through the halls of Wheelersburg forever, you’ll be able to look back on these trophies, and realize that you were a part of it,’” Jarvis said. “That’s a great thing. We’re thankful for our seniors, and we’re going to miss them. It’s bittersweet.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT