Story by Mike Holzheimer
Photos by Ken Hornack
The beat goes on.
The winning beat, that is, with regards to the girls varsity soccer team at Rocky River.
The Pirates, winners of eight games with no losses and a tie, are currently ranked No. 3 in the state's Division II poll. They continued their dominating ways on the field Wednesday night by defeating visiting Avon, 4-0, in a West Shore Conference contest at Rocky River Stadium.
Winning has certainly been no stranger to this tradition-rich Rocky River program, which can boast of a regional final finish in 2011, two district championships in 2011 and 2012, and three WSC soccer titles in 2008, 2010 and 2011.
And this season...well, head coach Patrick Hopkins believes something very special is capable of happening.
"We have a very good and experienced team with some senior leadership," said the Rocky River coach.
"We've been working toward this for a couple of years now. The kids have high expectations and they come ready to work every day. We work on all of the important things in practice. I think it shows during the course of our games," he said.
Such excellence was very visible during this 80-minute contest. And it certainly was noticed on the Avon sideline.
"We kind of expected this type of game from Rocky River," said Avon head coach Danie Schnaufer. "They have a lot of good things going on over here. We tried to keep things close, but they started very quickly in that first half."
With the game just 7:54 old, the home team got on the board first. Junior forward Grace Bennett fired a winning shot into the net near the left post, putting Rocky River ahead, 1-0. Hopkins' team made it 2-0 as senior forward/midfielder Abby Elinsky headed the ball beyond the reach of Avon goalkeeper Rachel Grudzien at the 22:20 mark of the first half.
Elinsky's "heads up" play was made possible by way of a perfect lead pass from junior forward/midfielder/defender Jillian Krebs.
"The girls seem to anticipate each other's moves," noted Hopkins. "It was nice to see that all we worked on in practice showed up during those first-half goals."
The final goal of that first half came with the Elinsky-Krebs combination working to perfection once again.
Krebs manuevered the ball against the Avon defense, taking it to the right side of the field. Elinsky snuck in near the left corner of the post with Krebs orchestrating the nifty assist. Elinsky deposited the ball into the net with 18:18 remaining in the first half.
Rocky River, which recorded 12 shots on goal to Avon's two attempts in the first half, led at the intermission, 3-0.
"I thought we played a better second half," said Schnaufer, whose team came into the game against Rocky River with a 3-0-3 record. "We just didn't have an answer in terms of stopping or slowing down their offensive attack."
The Pirates were just one, or even two steps ahead of Avon all night. With any potential scoring threat by Avon - and they were very few and far between - the Rocky River defense was right there to put the clamps on.
Offensively, Hopkins' team was most impressive in terms of overall footskills and passing. As for being the aggressor in attacking the net, Avon's Grudzien had to feel as though a target was painted on the front of her jersey.
The Eagles, however, did have one brief "moment under the sun," if you will, as junior midfielder/forward Jessica Yurkovich managed to get one past Rocky River senior goalkeeper Sara Connelly. But the goal was waived off by the official, who whistled Avon for being offsides.
The penalty managed to keep Connelly's shutout in front of the net intact. Wednesday's victory over Avon gave Connelly her sixth shutout in nine games. She has surrendered only three goals this seaon, while her teammates have recorded 53 goals.
That is nearly an average of nine goals a contest, and that spells dominance.
"We wanted to win both halves tonight," said Hopkins. "We accomplished that.
"It was good to be home following our road trips, including the recent one to Indianapolis. We've traveled a lot of miles on the bus. It was good to play tonight in front of the home crowd."
The Rocky River faithful saw one final goal to punctuate the night's event as Krebs fired one past Grudzien with 1:10 left to play in the match. Taking a pass from Bennett, Krebs sent a lazer into the back of the net to put the finishing touches on this one.
"We play Magnificat Saturday right back here at Rocky River Stadium," said Schnaufer, referring to her Eagles' 3 p.m. contest with the Blue Streaks. "Hopefully, we will learn from our mistakes made on this field tonight, and be more prepared for on Saturday."
Rocky River, which gets a well-deserved rest not having to play until Sept. 18 against North Ridgeville, outshot Avon, 23-4.
The future of Rocky River Girls Soccer was also on display as members of the Rocky River Soccer Organization's travel teams were introduced to the crowd at halftime.
(You can follow Mike Holzheimer on his new Twitter account @MikeHolzheimer. Follow our website @BeAFanatic)