A great season just continues to get better for the Wooster Generals, who took on the Hiland Hawks on Tuesday, Oct. 10 in Berlin. While these two teams have only played each other five times, with this being the fifth, it has quickly become a nice, little rivalry between two teams that have boasted strong programs during the past decade.
While Hiland stands at 9-3-3, Wooster is 9-2-4, following a 3-0 Generals win that continued a strong campaign for Brian Hansen’s crew.
Last season in a game where the two teams tied 1-1, Hansen wrote “first 10 minutes” on the team’s locker room white board. Perhaps that message carried over to this contest because the Generals bolted out to a 2-0 lead after just seven minutes and rode that wave to victory.
“This has become a great rivalry in a short time,” Hansen said of the match-up.
Each year since the two teams started playing, Hiland has come out on top or tied, so this marks the first time the Generals have dealt the Hawks a loss. “I told our kids we had to get things done early. Because if we let them in the game, it was going to be a dogfight. We were fortunate to complete two scores early and get on top. I thought they played a pretty solid game.”
That happened in a heartbeat when Joe Stoll launched a pass that found Andrew Martinez, who banged it in for the 1-0 lead. Two minutes later Caesar Ayala found Tyler Foster, who nailed a goal to make it 2-0. That put the Hawks in a huge deficit, one that Wooster would not let them climb out of.
Hansen said Hiland played well, regardless of the score, and Hiland coach Scott Bodiker agreed with that assessment. Despite the 3-0 loss, he wasn’t totally displeased with the effort his team put forth.
“That’s a really good team we played, probably as good as anyone we’ll face this season,” Bodiker said. “We didn’t start the game well, but after the first 10 minutes, it was a really competitive game.”
Wooster ended up out-shooting the Hawks 14-5, but Bodiker said that was a bit misleading. Bodiker noted that while the shots on goal were in Wooster’s advantage, many of those shots came from deep, and he said his team is willing to give up those kinds of low-percentage shots.
Wooster did get one great shot attempt after the big start and made it pay huge dividends. Again it was Ayala sending in an indirect kick across the face of the net, where it soared over the head of defender Brayden Gray, and Martinez headed it in for a beautiful goal.
“We finished tonight, and we haven’t done that early in the past couple of games, and that can be the difference between a win, a tie or a loss,” Hansen said.
Corner kicks were 4-3 in favor of Hiland, and the two teams were close to even in time of possession. It proved to be exactly what each team was looking for heading into tournament play next week.
“We’re trying to prep for tournaments and so is Hiland,” Hansen said.
Wooster is the six-seed in its Div. I district while Hiland earned a two-seed in its Div. III district. “In that sense it was a good game for us both because it was a great challenge against a quality opponent. Plus nobody came away with any injuries, which is really important.”
Hansen likes his team’s chances, despite the six-seed. His Generals tied top-seed Wadsworth earlier this year, and he said it is anyone’s guess as to who might come out of the meat-grinder district.
The Generals also locked up at least a share of the Ohio Cardinal Conference crown, so they remain extremely confident as their terrific season rolls along.
Hawks’ first outright league title borne from nowhere
It wasn’t all bad news for the Hawks last week. The Hawks have been in search of a Tri-County Soccer League championship for a long time. In 2013 it grabbed a piece of its first league crown by tying Western Reserve, but it wasn’t until this season, a season in which few if any gave Hiland a chance at winning an outright title because of the team’s inexperience, that Hiland got its first crown all by itself.
Hiland needed a win to secure a championship on Saturday, Oct. 7 versus a scrappy Youngstown Mooney team, and while the 1-0 victory wasn’t pretty, it was enough to grab the crown.
Declan Howell took a pass from Cam Keim and drilled home the game’s lone goal in the 22nd minute, and from then on it was Hiland’s defense that made life tough for Mooney. Mooney got very few good chances to score, and when it did, it seemed like a Hiland defender stuck a leg in front of a shot or Sam Raber or Derek Burke was there in goal to gobble up the shots.
Bodiker said it was a generally sloppy day for Hiland. He noted that the Hawks struggled to move the ball, and their touches were off all day. But when the final second ticked away, Hiland’s victory had secured something the Hawks had never done before.
With the win Hiland claimed the outright league championship for the Tri-County Soccer League. Hiland had shared a claim for the league crown in 2013 but never before had the Hawks won it outright.
That this team was able to do that following the exodus of 10 starters to graduation and 15 seniors overall from last year’s crew was a monumental achievement. That they did it after struggling out of the gate at 1-2-1 to begin the year made the feat even more remarkable.
“We were able to find ways to win when we had to,” Bodiker said. “If anyone had told me we’d be talking about winning the league early in the season, I’d have told them there would be no way.”
The Hawks played well enough to tie or defeat major challenges in Western Reserve, Mansfield Christian, Central Christian and Lake Center, all teams capable of knocking off Hiland had it not played well.
“In order to win a championship you have to win the game you’re supposed to win, and we were able to do that while a couple of the other teams didn’t, and that is how we were able to win a championship,” Bodiker said.
“This feels really good for us,” senior keeper Derek Burke said. “I don’t think any of us really ever pictured this. I’m not sure anyone did after we lost so many guys from last year’s team.”
However, the Hawks never stopped believing, and after the team struggled mightily in game four versus Tusky Valley, a game in which the teams played to a 0-0 tie, the Hawks came together. They never stopped believing, and it has paid off with the school’s first sole championship.
Burke said it has been much more than the players themselves that deserve the credit for the turnaround season.
“It’s a credit to the coaches pushing us every day in practice,” Burke said. “Coach has talked about winning the league, and more importantly he has prepared us for tournament play. It feels good because it got us to where we are today. This one really feels great.”