AVON — Elyria Catholic and Avon, two undefeated contenders for the West Shore Conference girls championship, battled to a scoreless tie Wednesday night.
As expected, it was a thriller that went down to the wire and had fans on both sides on their feet as time ran down.
The goalkeepers, Panthers freshman Stevie Holbrook and Eagles junior Rachel Grudzien, can thank the defensive players in front of them for enabling the double shutout.
But one Avon attack nearly connected and forced Holbrook to make the defensive play of the game in the 49th minute.
Avon junior Regan Betts made what appeared to be a nearly perfect right-to-left crossing pass that was headed for sophomore forward Zanny Sauter, who was open near the left goalpost. But Holbrook slipped off her line to make the interception and save the Panthers’ hides.
Had she not been there, the Eagles most likely would have won it.
“During the game, I’m a talker and I try to direct the defense,” Holbrook said. “As the play was going on, I was telling them to shift back, and as I saw the cross coming, I just thought, ‘I have to get to it,’ and I stepped out. My defense made it possible for me to get to the ball. I love my defense. I don’t know what I’d do without them.”
Avon (2-0-3, 1-0-1 WSC) also just missed a golden opportunity seven minutes earlier when sophomore forward Maggie O’Donnell made another good cross to Sauter, who just missed to the right side.
“Speed is definitely one of our assets,” Avon coach Dani Schnaufer said. “We have some nice quick players, especially on the outside. Whether it’s Jade (junior defender Baker) or our outside mids, I definitely think they create chances for us. There were some opportunities tonight that we missed, but both teams played well.”
The Panthers (4-0-1, 1-0-1 WSC) got off just one shot the first 40 minutes. But the offense came alive after the break, getting off four more shots and forcing Grudzien to make saves in the 44th and 50th minutes. Again, the Eagles defenders — Hilary Mihalik, Mallory Deel, Baker and Alivia Svec among them — were strong and put their speed to good use.
“Obviously, we like to play down the sidelines and we’re all really fortunate to have so much speed on our side,” said Baker, a sprinter and long jumper on the track team. “Defensively, I use my speed to recover fast and that’s a blessing. Offensively we obviously use it to send (the ball) down and get some shots on goal.”
Fortunately for the Panthers, they got good defensive work from McKenzie Rozanc, Anastazja Golab, Kat Newman and Kirsten Fehlan, among others.
“Me and Kirsten control the defense in the back,” said Rozanc, a senior. “We try to limit (opponents’ shots) as much as possible and give no crosses. Give them nothing up top, no space.”
The defenders had to be quick to cope with the Eagles’ team speed.
“What we did to control the speed was, we knew coming in that our outside backs couldn’t win the ball every single time,” said Fehlan, a junior. “So we worked out if they got beat, me and McKenzie would have to shift over and cover and they would drop back and support us.”
“I told them, ‘Our defense saved us,’” EC coach Tony Rozanc said. “We’re definitely solid back there. As far as what we did in the midfield and the forwards, we just had a good game against Midview last week where we figured it out. But tonight, we kind of went back to our old ways. That’s something we’ll work on.”
Contact Bob Daniels at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elyria Catholic 0, Avon 0
SAVES: (EC) Stevie Holbrook 4. (A) Rachel Grudzien 2.
SHOTS: Elyria Catholic 5, Avon 10.
SHOTS ON GOAL: Elyria Catholic 2, Avon 3.
CORNER KICKS: Elyria Catholic 1, Avon 4.
GOAL KICKS: Elyria Catholic 10, Avon 8.
OFFSIDE: Avon 1.
HANDBALLS: Elyria Catholic 1.
FOULS: Elyria Catholic 5, Avon 9.
YELLOW CARDS: (EC) Coach Rozanc (52nd minute).