All season long Hiland girls soccer coach Jeremy Kauffman has talked about preparing his team for the second season. “It’s all about getting ready for the tournament,” Kauffman continually said, even as Hiland struggled through the regular season with very few wins.
Losses piled up, but Kauffman never wavered in his commitment to bringing this team along by having them develop sound, fundamental skills and playing offense by moving and passing the ball rather than just banging it downfield and chasing.
Then the second season came, and Hiland dealt number-two-seed Edison a 5-4 defeat in the opening round. On Wednesday, Oct. 25 at New Philadelphia’s Quaker Stadium, another top seed felt the Lady Hawks’ wrath.
Hiland posted three scores, and the defense played a fantastic game in stumping number-three-seed Harrison Central 3-0 to advance to the district championship game for the second time in three seasons.
“Sure we could have probably got a few more wins if we would have played a different style and just kicked the ball downfield and chased after it and hoped for the best, but the reality is that is not how I want to coach soccer, and in the end that style is not going to be successful for us as a program,” Kaufman said. “We had to stay the course and teach the girls the right way to play and keep working on their skills and their knowledge, and because of that, we are peaking at the right time and giving ourselves another day.”
The tourney run also has ignited the girls, as they enjoy the fruits of their labor, having played what Kauffman believes is one of the toughest schedules in the area in the Tri-County Soccer League.
“This is awesome,” Taryn Schlabach said. “This season our record was kind of hard to take because we felt we were better than the record showed. I think when we came in and shocked the number-two seed, it kind of opened some people’s eyes, and now we beat the number-three seed, so I doubt anyone will take us lightly at this point.”
On this day the Lady Hawks barely allowed Harrison Central to get a shot on goal. Meanwhile Alexis Raber gave Hiland a leg up in the 25th minute when she pounded home a goal for a 1-0 Hiland lead.
“The keeper came out pretty strong, and Lexi had a great touch and went right around her, which is something we’ve been working on,” Kauffman said.
The score stood that way until about five minutes into the second half when Mia Gertz found herself open for a look from beyond the 18. She lofted a high-arching shot that cleared the keeper’s outstretched arms for a 2-0 lead.
“We had been encouraging Mia to start looking for her shot more because she tends to have a pass-first mentality,” Kauffman said. “She hit a really nice shot there, and I think that score really put them under a lot of pressure to answer.”
The defense continued to confound Harrison Central, and Kauffman said it was one of the best performances his defense has given all season. The core group of Falyn Miller, Alexis Kaufman, Kara Kornhaus and Courtney Mullet stymied Harrison Central, and keeper Patricia Raber had little to do.
“We haven’t scored a lot of goals this year, and that always magnifies what your defense is doing, and at times I think they have taken some lumps because they have been under a lot of pressure,” Kauffman said of the defense. “They played about as well as they possibly can tonight. To go home with a shut-out and not really give them anything significant in terms of good shots was a good sign. I thought we did an excellent job of being aggressive and coming out to get the ball. We were winning the ball moving forward, and that kept the pressure on Harrison Central.”
Just for a bit of insurance, Hiland tacked on one more goal with 11 minutes to play as Taryn Schlabach got the ball in the middle of the field and found Shana Miller, who one-touched a ball and curled her shot into the corner of the net.
“We’ve struggled scoring goals, so for us to produce three quality goals coming off a five-goal win is encouraging,” Kauffman said.
The effort allowed Hiland to advance to the district final to face Zanesville Rosecrans, the district’s top seed. The Lady Hawks have been seeking that showdown all season.
“This is so fun,” Alexis Kaufman said. “At the beginning of the year a team goal was to reach the district finals to face Rosecrans, and now here we are. I think the last few days we have come out really ready to play with a lot more energy, enthusiasm and focus, especially in the second half.”
Kauffman said his team has kept a positive attitude throughout the season, and they have continued to work hard on the things he wants them to learn.
Before the game he told his crew that Hiland has had great success at Quaker Stadium in the past, and he reminded them that Harrison Central was the team that knocked them out of the tournament last season.
It all added up to an impressive victory.
“You could see the intensity on their faces, and at the same time they are having a lot of fun,” Kauffman said. “Playing for the district title two times in three years is pretty special, and I hope it means we are moving in the right direction as a program.”