There was a time not too long ago when things weren’t going very well for the Avon girls soccer team.
“The wheels were coming off,” said Eagles head coach Tony DiMacchia. “It was midway through the season, and we were dealing with a lot of adversity and a lot of injuries. We weren’t playing well, and we weren’t finishing well.”
All that seemed like ancient history as DiMacchia addressed the media at sun-drenched Reed Field. His Eagles had just finished beating top-seeded Westlake, 1-0, to win the program’s first Division I district championship.
“To play through that adversity is a tribute to these kids,” DiMacchia said. “After we lost to Rocky River, we knew we weren’t going to win the conference. That put our focus on the tournament.
“We wanted to get heathy, then come out here and play hard to give ourselves an opportunity. That’s why I jumped on the No. 2 seed Amherst. This team needed a spark. We needed to pick it up. I knew if we could go into Amherst and knock them off, we could make a pretty good run.
“Obviously, we’ve done that,” he added with a smile.
The Eagles improved to 9-5-5 on the season and will face Wadsworth in a regional semifinal game Wednesday at Rocky River. The Grizzlies defeated Wooster, 2-1, to win the Brunswick district title.
Westlake, on the other hand, saw a streak of three-straight district titles come to an end. The Demons closed out another successful season at 10-3-3 but could not convert on any of their scoring opportunities against the Avon defense.
“It all came down to opportunities,” said Westlake head coach Scott Jones. “They got one and they made it. We had our, and we didn’t.
“The first time we played them, we made a bunch of them,” Jones said, referring to his team’s 4-0 win over the Eagles near the end of the season. This time we didn’t. It just comes down to that.”
“Avon did everything they needed to do to win the game. Congratulations to them. They deserve it,” he added.
The Eagles scored the only goal they needed just three minutes into the game. That’s when senior Megan Garner dribbled the ball past a Westlake defender and into the box. That forced Demon keeper Alexis Carpenter away from the crease.
Garner was able to elude Carpenter and struck the ball toward the goal. It rolled unimpeded into the back of the net for the 1-0 Avon lead.
From that point on, the Eagles’ defense and keeper Holly Kraus were up to the task of making that lead stand. But it wasn’t like the Demons didn’t have their chances.
In the 12th minute, a Westlake shot hit the crossbar. In the 24th minute, Sarah Stroh crossed the ball over the Megan Konrad, but Kraus was able to make the kick save. In the 30th minute, an opportunity off a corner kick went just wide left.
Then with 7:02 left in the first half, the Demons had a golden opportunity to tie the score when Konrad was fouled in the box. Serena Tabbaa took the penalty kick, and Kraus made the diving save.
The rebound came right back to Tabbaa, but the shot in front of the empty net went wide right. Then in the second half, the Demons had four corner kick opportunities but could not convert.
DiMacchia credited the continued steady play of his defense, along with his team’s ability to play at a high level physically.
“Westlake has a phenomenal program,” he said. “We knew this was going to be a tough game, and we knew it was going to be physical. We wanted to come out and set the tone early to show we could match their physical toughness. I think that was important to us.
“Holly has played tough throughout her whole high school career,” DiMacchia said. “She made some brilliant saves in the North Olmsted game that kept us in it and she did the same thing today. The one save when they called the PK was a brilliant save, then she comes right back and makes the save on the PK.
“That’s mental toughness right there. And our defense has just been solid. They’re a brick wall back there. There’s five of them back there that do just an amazing job. We did a great job man-to-man, and we did a nice job stepping off in support and recovering.
“That’s been one of our strengths all year. We focus on our defense. When you shut out a team like Westlake, that’s a tough feat in itself,” he added.
Jones was philosophical about the loss and said his seniors will be missed.
“There are going to be a lot of hurdles for these kids to get over later on in life,” Jones said. “If this is the worst thing to happen along the way, they’re going to live wonderful lives.
“We’re going to miss our seniors, because they’ve been a big part of our program the last four years. They’ll come back stronger in life because of times like this,” he added.