Girls soccer advances to state semifinals game for the first time since 2009

The girls soccer team celebrates following their win over Fairfield Union at the regional final game Nov. 6. (Photo by Leah Baumann)

The girls soccer team ended their season in the state final four this year with a record of 13-7-2, their furthest tournament run since 2009.

After winning district semifinals Oct. 27 against Heath 9-0, the girls moved forward in the tournament, beating Granville 1-0 Oct. 30 in the district finals. The game was won with a goal from junior Sofie Sheridan and an assist from junior Molly O’Dell.

The team beat Steubenville 2-0 Nov. 2 before winning regional finals Nov. 6 with a 2-1 victory over Fairfield Union. Senior Grace Heilman scored a penalty kick and O’Dell scored from a corner kick. Following regional finals, the girls fell 1-0 in the state semifinals against Cincinnati Wyoming Nov. 9 from Wyoming’s winning goal in the second half.

Junior Anna Hollo said the team had a great season despite playing a tough schedule, and they were successful because of the challenging teams they played throughout the year.

“At first I was really worried about playing higher level teams, but looking back, they were necessary to helping us get to where we are,” Hollo said.

She added that she had never expected for the team to make it to the final four this season and said that it always seemed like more of a dream than a reality.

“I’m really grateful that we were able to get here,” Hollo said. “I feel like we all surprised ourselves.”

Sheridan explained that the team’s bond was its biggest strength and had a huge impact on their tournament play.

“Our chemistry was the strongest it’s ever been,” she said. “We were able to understand how each of us play, and we were able to focus on not just playing separately, but playing as a team.”

Sheridan said that the team’s biggest challenge this season was being assertive and taking shots.

She added that it took a long time for them to adjust to the pace and pressure of the game, but once they got control of it, they were able to thrive.

“At the beginning of the season, during our games we would come out really slow and worried,” she explained. “At the end of the season, we were on their half of the field, getting shots on goal within the first 10 minutes.”

Sophomore Isabel Niermeyer said that their energy was crucial to improving their season, adding that a lot can change with a positive attitude.

“If there was negative energy, or if people were down on themselves, we would build each other back up,” Niermeyer said.

The biggest turning point of the season was their win against Granville, head coach Scott James said.

“We knew as soon as we saw them in the bracket that that was the team we wanted to beat,” James said.

He added that the girls’ determination to win was what set them apart from Granville and other teams. Their preparation and determination helped boost their morale in the postseason, he said.

“The girls really believed in themselves and wanted to prove to everybody that we were for real,” James explained.

Senior captain Lillian Hoyer said that the captains’ leadership helped increase the motivation and energy on the team.

“Even if it’s just getting everyone at practice quiet for coach, it’s the small things that go a long way,” she said.

Hoyer explained that the captains wanted to make the season special, and the only way they could accomplish that was to be as encouraging as possible.

“The most important part of being a leader is supporting your teammates no matter what,” Hoyer said. “I think my teammates are more likely to work hard when they feel like they are being encouraged.”

After the season, many players received individual awards. Heilman won Mid-State League player of the year and first team all-state.

Junior Kate Baldwin, O’Dell and Sheridan won second team all-league, and sophomore Ace Hillman, Niermeyer and Heilman won first team all-league. Senior Sydney Tyler and Hollo won all-league honorable mentions.

Heilman and Niermeyer also won first team all-district, and Hillman won second team all-district.

The team is losing 11 seniors, including starting goalkeeper Katie Jude and four other starting varsity players: Heilman, Sydney Hoffman, Ava Joseph and Tyler, James said.

“Each one of them have their own characteristics, and we are going to miss every single one of them,” he said.

Niermeyer said that the team will have to fill in the roles of the graduating seniors, and that she hopes the success from this year will carry into the next season.

“I’m excited to work hard and see where the next season takes us,” she said.

Hoyer said that she was excited about the tournament run and that reaching the state semifinals was the best way to finish her senior season.

“Making it to the final four was something I never expected,” Hoyer said. “We looked at the plaques on the stadium and said ‘We are going to get one of these.’”