Story by Jim Horvath
Photos by Larry Bennet
The road to a state championship is a long one. Anyone who has experienced the journey will tell you it takes a lot of hard work and determination, and more of the same even after that.
Challenges are presented along the way, and pitfalls must be avoided.
The Rocky River girls soccer team managed to do all of that, and then some. The Pirates, led by a tight-knit group of seniors, navigated their way through an undefeated season and ended their adventure with the 2013 OHSAA Division II State Championship.
Seniors Megan Killeen, Liesl Fahrenkopf, Grace Bennett, Abby Elinsky, McKenna Klodnick, Grace Tigue, Amanda Oster and Sara Connelly will look back on how they played their final high school soccer game on a crisp, mostly sunny Friday afternoon. The They'll remember playing on the immaculate green pitch of Columbus Crew Stadium, with a huge throng of Rocky River fans cheering them on.
And they'll always remember the feeling when the game's final whistle sounded.
"Coming in as freshmen, this was our goal, to make it to the state championship," said Bennett, whose goal with 9:32 remaining gave the Pirates some breathing room in the 3-1 win over Granville.
"It's great to get it our senior year, and especially to look up and see everyone in the community supporting you," Bennett said. "There were bus loads of kids that came down here. I've been growing up here for 18 years, and it's just crazy to look back and see how many people and behind you.
"It's an awesome feeling."
Elinsky, who scored the Pirates' second goal of the game, looked back on how the River run got started back in August.
"Since Day One back in August, we set our goals high," she said. "We knew what we wanted was a state championship. It's great to be able to come out and finish the deal. I couldn't ask for anything else.
"We have a great team here, and it's a good way to finish off my high school season," she added.
Farenhkopf, a defender, said the the team's togetherness was a key factor in the season's success. She said it also was a big help in the second half when the Blue Aces made a push to get back into the game.
"We really know how to work together," Fahrenkopf said. "I've been playing with a lot of these girls since I was eight years old. We've learned how to read each other and we know where we're going. We work together really well, and that helps a lot."
Fahrenkopf also said they had to work together to shut down Granville's top scorer, sophomore Nikki Cox.
"McKenna and I doubled up a lot on her, and that helped," she said. "We tried to keep her contained so she couldn't beat us. And the fans, our teammates and our coaches really just kept us pushing forward. We couldn't have done it without them.
"It feels amazing. Just to be able to go out in my senior year, win a state championship and go undefeated, it's really surreal, she added.
Klodnick, known more for her assists and long throw-ins, spent a lot of her time dropping back to help the defense.
"Coming out of the half 2-0 was difficult," she said. "That's a hard score to stay at going into the second half, so we knew we had to put two more goals in to stay up. That one forward up there, we knew she was going to be tough, so Hopkins had me stay back to help.
"It was tough, but we got things under control at the end of the game. We said 'this is our game. We can't let this go, nothing gets past us.' Emily Soltes played her heart out tonight and stopped every ball possible," she said.
After a Cox penalty kick cut the Pirate lead to 2-1, it was up to the defense to hold until the offense could answer. But for every challenge sent the Pirates' way, a big play seemed to follow.
"The second half definitely challenged us," Elinsky said. "We knew what we were up against with a 2-0 lead. It's the most dangerous lead to have. We knew we had to make a move or else maybe they would. We had to come out as hard as we could and finish the job.
"It's awesome. I wouldn't want it any other way, because we had to earn it. We had to fight for what we wanted at the end, and it's just amazing," she said.
Bennett, who scored the first goal of the game back in the first half, described the clinching goal after her first attempt bounced back off the left post.
"Honestly, I didn't even think about it. I just saw the ball and knew I had to put it in the goal," Bennett exclaimed. "I didn't have time to think about it.
"After I hit the post, I told myself 'this has to go in. We need to close out this game.' I just focused on the ball and put it in the back of the net. It was a great feeling.
They had an excellent keeper. Someone deflected the ball back to me, and it was good placement. I just finished it," she said.
Connelly, who registered three saves on the day, knew the defense had to do its part to clinch the championship.
"At 2-1, it was pretty scary," she admitted. "If it gets to 2-2, we're all tied up and they have the momentum. I'm really happy we scored that third goal.
"That was definitely a challenging game for us because we haven't had many of those situations this year," Connelly said. "It was awesome that we really came out and did what we had to do in the defensive end.
"There're no words to describe it. It's just so awesome. We've been playing together, these seniors, since we were eight years old. We've really gone after it these last four years, and we finally got it our senior year," she said.
I'm so happy we won this my senior year. It's all I wanted," Klodnick said.
"I'm so happy. I love this group of seniors, and having Abby come in her sophomore year really changed the whole entire game for us. Having her and Grace up there have been big for us.
"I've known Sara since she was really, really young. We've played together since U8. When she had that one save, I thought 'jump.' They're going to shoot high on Sara, and those are hard balls to defend. When she made the save, I went up to her and said 'I love you.'
"It was amazing, and I'm so proud of her. She had an amazing game," she added.
It was an amazing game overall for the Pirates.
Not to mention an amazing season.
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