For a while in the Philo District championship girls soccer game on Tuesday, Oct. 23, the Minerva Lions were hanging right with the West Holmes Lady Knights.
While both teams were number one seeds from their respective Sectionals, West Holmes had dominated play throughout, but simply was unable to push a goal across in the scoreless tie that went more than 38 minutes without a score by either team.
Then, with one swift stroke of Mallory Wahl’s leg, the tie was broken, and the Lady Knights found the net three more times en route to a 4-1 victory that sewed up their second District title in as many years.
“It woke us up, I think,” said Wahl of the goal.
With Minerva gaining confidence with each passing moment the score remained tied, Wahl’s goal was exactly what West Holmes needed heading into the half.
“We didn’t really play all that well in the first half,” said West Holmes coach Josh Wengerd.
Wengerd said the slow start was frustrating, not because it made this game closer in the first half, but because it isn’t the first time in recent action in which the Lady Knights have begun slow from the opening whistle.
“We’ve had too many of those lately,” said Wengerd of the sluggish start. “We are obviously at a point now where we can’t afford to have those.”
If Wengerd’s group begins cold, they certainly heat up after the break, and this game was all about taking advantage of opportunities in the second half.
After Wahl’s score set the tone for the second half, West Holmes began capitalizing not long into the second stanza.
“Scoring that goal before halftime was big,” said Wengerd. “It was huge momentum swing, because we probably could have had three or four at that point.”
The numbers supported Wengerd’s summary, as West Holmes took 10 shots to Minvera’s three in the half.
But after the break, the sleeping giant that is the defending District champions awoke, and when the next goals came, they came quickly.
About 10 minutes into the second half, Abby Callahan found Elise Neville with a crossing pass, and Neville crushed it home for a 2-0 advantage. 50 seconds later Wahl struck again, making it 3-0.
“Once the offense scores, it puts the other team back on their heels,” said defender Courtney Kozak.
If it did, the Lions didn’t get the memo, as they responded in short order with a goal one minute later off a direct kick that banged off the cross bar, ricocheted away from keeper Shelby Harris right to Lauren Haynam who put it through to cut the lead to 3-1.
However West Holmes continued to dominate play, and as Minerva tired, the athletic Callahan struck one final time, beating two Minerva defenders to a ball, and then punched it through to make it 4-1.
Winning by three with the second half rush was nice, but Wengerd said that the District title game wasn’t a picture of beauty, although nobody on the Lady Knights sideline is going to complain.
“We are capable of playing better,” said Wengerd. “We did enough to win, and that is obviously what matters. Hopefully in the future we will take care of those slow starts.”
In the past, the team would have been thrilled with just getting this far, but because the expectations are so big, they are now looking at all of the little things that help improve a team and make them even better.
“These kids expect a lot and put a lot of pressure on themselves,” said Wengerd. “This program has made tremendous strides over the past several years. Maybe it sounds cliche, but every year we talk about raising the bar. We have been able to do that again this year. We have more wins, with 14, and we have done things this year that no other team has done at West Holmes. We received some votes in the State poll, we got the number one seed, that’s all new territory for us. We are a team right on the edge, and if we play well good things can happen.”
The District title marks the second straight District championship for the Lady Knights. Considering that they had never sniffed one until last season, to put together two in a row is a monumental feat.
“It’s pretty great,” said Kozak. “It’s fun when you can say you are the first team to do something. We’re the first (soccer) team at West Holmes to win two District titles in a row, and no one can take that away from us.”
“This has been crazy,” said junior Alexis Rolince. “We have done so well through the season, but it feels so different now. It’s electric, and it is a wonderful feeling. We are just really confident right now, and that is a little scary, because we don’t want to come out thinking that we are just going to show up and win. But we do feel extremely confident as a team, and that is good. Everything is flowing and this group of girls knows how to work together as a team because we have been together for a long time.”