AVON — Defensive players spend their soccer careers in anonymity. Spectators watch, and writers write about the goal scorers. Defenders don’t make headlines.
But Stephanie Fifolt and Nicole Lavelle might have changed that in the mist and gloom Saturday night.
Fifolt, Avon’s junior goalkeeper, made the biggest save in the history of the program to secure a 2-1 shootout victory over Buckeye and the Eagles’ first district championship after 110 minutes of regulation and overtime soccer.
And with Lavelle sliding and scrambling on the artificial turf and Fifolt making two seemingly impossible saves, the Eagles fought off a relentless Buckeye push late in the 95th minute. Their work in a staccato sequence of Buckeye shots sent the match to its second sudden-death overtime period.
There would have been no overtime if not for the Eagles’ lone goal in regulation time. It came off the foot of senior midfielder Nicole Zisko, who scored into the left side of the Buckeye goal in the 46th minute with an assist from Devon Saini. Avon trailed 1-0 at the break.
The work by this foursome was key in sending the Eagles (13-3-3) to their first-ever Division II regional semifinal at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Brunswick. The opponent will be either Chagrin Falls or Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas, which played on Saturday for the Kent district title. Buckeye’s season ends at 17-2.
Damp and chilled Avon fans erupted when Fifolt saved a shot from the 12-yard dot by Buckeye’s Danielle Phillips. Fifolt’s kick-save ended a classic thriller between the top-seeded Eagles and second-seeded Bucks that lasted for 80 minutes of regulation play, two 15-minute sudden-death overtime periods and 10 shootout shots from the penalty-kick spot 12 yards from the goal mouth.
Phillips, the fifth of Buckeye’s five shooters and 10th overall, tried to beat Fifolt to the left side. But Fifolt was ready for her.
“I knew the girl (Phillips) used her left foot, so I knew she was probably going to my left side,” Fifolt said. “You can look at their hips and tell which way they’re going to go and hopefully make a lucky guess. So it was luck; or smarts maybe.”
Whatever it was, it made a winner of the PK by the Eagles’ Megan Repas. Repas, Avon’s fifth shooter, drilled her shot into the left side past Buckeye keeper Tracy Tytko after each team had scored three times in the shootout. Each side missed a shot. Fifolt’s game-saver was the only save.
It was Fifolt’s first shootout experience. Despite that, she was reasonably calm knowing she would be facing Buckeye’s best shooters.
Avon 2, Buckeye 1
GOALS: (B) Alaina Giesen, 34th minute. (A) Nicole Zisko, 46th minute.
ASSISTS: (A) Devon Saini.
SHOOTOUT GOALS: (B) Giesen, Sara Derksen, Erica Zachar. (A) Katie Demarco, Zisko, Sammy Bender, Megan Repas.
SHOTS: Buckeye 18, Avon 14.
SHOTS ON FRAME: Buckeye 9, Avon 5.
SAVES: (B) Tracy Tytko 4. (A) Stephanie Fifolt 10; Nicole Lavelle 1.
SHOOTOUT SAVES: (B) Tytko 0. (A) Fifolt 1.
CORNER KICKS: Buckeye 4, Avon 2.
GOAL KICKS: Buckeye 7, Avon 12.
OFFSIDE: Buckeye 0, Avon 2.
HAND BALLS: None.
OTHER INFRACTIONS: Buckeye 13, Avon 6.
CARDS: (B) Derksen yellow, 78th minute.
HALFTIME: Buckeye, 1-0.
Contact Bob Daniels at 329-7137 or email@example.com.