Meghan Michels and Maddie Wheelock have demonstrated good chemistry on the soccer field.
And it showed in St. Mary’s 4-0 victory against the Western Mennonite/Perrydale Pioneers in the opening round of the Class 3A/2A/1A girls state soccer playoffs Tuesday at U.S. Cellular Community Park.
Fifth-seeded St. Mary’s (9-4) advances to the quarterfinals on Saturday at fourth-seeded Pleasant Hill (11-1-1), which knocked the Crusaders out of last year’s playoffs, 1-0, on penalty kicks.
St. Mary’s veteran coach Dave Potter thought the Crusader’s depth might be a factor against the Pioneers (9-8-1), who had just 13 players on the roster. But Potter was wrong.
St. Mary’s dynamic attack struck early and often as the Crusaders built a 3-0 lead in the first 14 minutes of action and had all four goals by the end of the first period.
“The opening minutes of the first half was close to picture perfect,” said Potter, whose team has made the state playoffs for nine straight years. “We were patient, making connections and moving the ball.”
Senior captain Sara Klott, assuming a more aggressive role with an injury to starter Gabi Castillo, had a hand in the Crusaders’ first two goals.
“I moved Sara Klott to an attacking midfielder to increase our efficiency up front,” said Potter. “It paid off in a hurry.”
The Crusaders’ first goal came about when Klott got control of the ball at the top of the Pioneers’ zone and rolled a pass up the right side to freshman Sophia Dobry, who was elevated to the starting lineup because of Castillo’s ankle injury. Dobry dribbled up the flank and fired a shot from about 20 yards out that zipped over the left shoulder of goalkeeper Rina Harris for a 1-0 lead with less than four minutes gone in the game.
“I was in the middle and saw some open space,” explained Klott. “I know (Dobry) is quick and got it to her.”
Less than two minutes later, Wheelock forced the action and Klott capitalized — putting the ball past Harris from about 10 yards.
“I took three shots before it went in,” said Klott. “At that point you want to slow it down but you have to keep going because a 2-0 lead isn’t that much.”
Then Michels contributed the next two goals, with Wheelock assisting on one.
Michels served in a corner kick before moving into the action near the goal — getting a foot on a rebound and rolling it past Harris for a 3-0 lead at the 26:11 mark.
Wheelock, a constant energy force for the Crusaders, threaded a pass to Michels, who beat Harris 1-on-1 bottom right. That gave St. Mary’s a 4-0 lead with just over eight minutes to go in the half.
“That was a through ball,” said Wheelock about the play. “(Michels) was making a run and I saw her. We’ve played a lot of soccer together over the years. We have a good sense where each other is at on the field.”
St. Mary’s dominated the first half in every way. The Crusaders played most the period on the Pioneers’ side of the field, registered nine shots on goal to just two and had six corner kicks to none for the visitors.
“They did a good job of moving off and on the ball,” said Western Mennonite/Perrydale first-year coach Matt Kenitzer. “We didn’t do the job defending as we have in other situations.”
While Klott, Michels and Wheelock were involved with all the scoring, junior Ibixica Alvarez helped St. Mary’s control the midfield. Alvarez was either possessing the ball, starting the attack with pinpoint passing or not allowing the Pioneers to penetrate the Crusaders’ zone.
“(Alvarez) has a natural soccer sense and has vision beyond the norm,” said Potter.
Potter also had praise for the Michels-Wheelock tandem, who are part of a group of juniors that got the nickname “the Fab Five” as freshmen.
“They know a little ahead of time what the other will do,” said Potter. “They have a certain chemistry and we see magic out of them sometimes.”
Like in St. Mary’s state playoff victory on Tuesday.
Reach reporter Frank Silow at 541-776-4480 or firstname.lastname@example.org.