St. Mary's girls fall to OES
Although his girls soccer team entered the Class 3A/2A/1A state semifinals with an undefeated record, St. Mary's head coach Dave Potter knew his team had some areas in which it wasn't quite as strong as one would hope.
Unfortunately for the Crusaders, visiting Oregon Episcopal was able to exploit those areas time and again Tuesday afternoon under a slight rain at U.S. Cellular Community Park.
Faster to the touch and superior when the ball was in the air, the Aardvarks controlled action from start to finish to earn a 5-1 triumph and avenge a semifinal loss to St. Mary's in last year's semifinals.
Oregon Episcopal junior Anastasiya Chevtchenko scored one goal but it was her three perfectly placed corner kicks that did in the Crusaders, with 5-foot-11 senior Hannah Dugoni settling under each for header goals that St. Mary's couldn't thwart.
"The one area that we are perhaps weakest in and have worked on considerably this year — and obviously I haven't accomplished enough yet — is handling air balls," said Potter, whose team fell to 14-1-1. "Putting the head to the ball takes a lot of courage and we don't always get there like we would like to and we paid a price for that today. The team that has an advantage in the air is going to have a significant advantage, especially in front of the goal mouth on corner kicks."
Knowing their own strength in that area, the Aardvarks (12-3-2) worked crisply on the pitch and, when cut off on the attack, routinely kicked the ball off St. Mary's players to earn corner kicks.
"We definitely were trying for that," said OES head coach Scot Thompson. "A set piece in a playoff game is huge. Any set piece you can get and put a ball into the box is a threat. It makes average teams good and it makes good teams even better, so we try to get those whenever we can."
Oregon Episcopal set itself up for seven corner kicks in the first half alone, finally cashing in on the fifth attempt by Chevtchenko after a few close misses. The Aardvarks finished with a 10-4 advantage in corner kicks, scoring on two of three efforts in the second half as Dugoni acted as a magnet for the incoming soccer ball.
"She was just massive on going to the ball and we had no one who was really stepping up to compete with her today," said Potter of the senior.
Added Thompson: "It's always a weapon when you have a good player that can put a ball in the box at the same spot every time and, obviously, with Dugoni being about 5-foot-11, she's good in the air."
Definitely out to settle a score after being upended 4-1 on the very same field one year prior by the Crusaders, the Aardvarks struck first in almost innocent fashion when defender Rachel Brock sent a long clearing pass upfield that was touched over by Carolyn Ruoff and ultimately finished for a goal by Hannah Huston in the ninth minute.
Dugoni converted her first header for a goal with 27:15 gone in the first half and OES did well to contain the Crusader attack. St. Mary's had its first shot on goal come about 29 minutes into the action when Sarah Bennion tried to flick on a throw-in by Rachel Raniele.
Still within reasonable distance at only two goals down at intermission, the Crusaders tried to find a rhythm but OES simply wouldn't allow that to happen as its players routinely swooped in to be first to the ball and then re-directed it with sure touches that led to steady possession of the ball.
"They're just a good team," said St. Mary's senior Anna Thorndike. "We kinda got unlucky sometimes but we were definitely outplayed by them. I think they were looking for some revenge."
Dugoni and Chevtchenko connected on a second corner kick in the 53rd minute, then the Aardvarks got a pretty combination play from Erica Massaro to Chevtchenko for another goal six minutes later to go up 4-0. Massaro, who had earned several corner kicks with balls played off Crusaders, ran down a loose ball in the right corner but this time managed to squeeze a crossing pass back to the middle of the box for Chevtchenko, who one-timed it past freshman goalkeeper Viv Juncal.
Dugoni and Chevtchenko converted for a third and final time with 10:08 to go before the Crusaders finally found the net on a left-footed corner kick by Thorndike that curled high over goalie Sara Eaton, who was pinned in by seniors Charis Darnall and Clara Kerwin, and landed just inside the far post.
"It's always a good game down here," said Thompson. "We did our homework like we always do. We read the articles, we knew Thorndike was going to be a weapon and, obviously, she got her corner kick goal and we worried about that. St. Mary's is always a tough, athletic team."
But, at least on this day, not complete enough to fend off the Aardvarks.
"There was nothing they lacked skill-wise and their tactics were flawless throughout the entire match," Potter said of OES. "You saw a very accomplished, great team out here today play a quality match and we weren't up to their level on this day. We'll come back next season and work to improve that."
While a loss rarely sits well with any competitor, Thorndike and company appeared to take Tuesday's outcome in stride.
"That comes with soccer, you win some and you lose some," she said. "I'm just glad I've been able to play with the team I have because all of them are amazing, and Dave is just a phenomenal coach. All 10 seniors had a blast this year."
And that's exactly what Potter hoped would be a lasting image for the Crusaders, who finished as state runners-up a year ago and were making their third straight semifinal appearance.
"Like I said to the girls," Potter said of his post-game speech, "if someone would've said you'll go into the state tournament undefeated and you'll play in the semifinals, what would you say? It was a phenomenal season."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry