It’s true that Bay’s perennially tough girls soccer team moved up to Division I this year. It’s also true that Bay won the West Shore Conference championship yet again.
But ask yourself: Would you rather be a conference champion on the sidelines, such as Bay, or a district champion still playing soccer and making school history?
Avon, which for years has been a strong team at tournament time, has always faced the unhappy likelihood of running into Bay somewhere at the sectional-district level. Bay, a three-time state champion, has been the one to advance to the Division II regionals.
This year, it’s a different story in part because all of the above really happened.
Bay, based on female enrollment, moved up to Division I and was recently ousted from the Rocky River district tournament by North Olmsted, a former Southwestern Conference rival. Avon, still in Division II, made school history on Saturday, winning its first-ever district championship over Buckeye in a shootout.
The result is the Eagles (13-3-3) move on to their first regional semifinal at
7 p.m. Wednesday in Brunswick. They’ll take on the Chagrin Falls Tigers (12-5-3), a former state champion and a team they’ve already defeated this year — 2-0 in a non-conference match at home on Sept. 15.
Don’t get all excited, Eagles fans. It wasn’t that easy and it could turn out differently this time, said Avon coach Brian Irwin.
“That was a game I look back on and it could have been 2-0 either way,” he said. “It was a tough match and I’m sure Wednesday will be even more so.”
Maybe. But co-captains Nicole Lavelle, the best female defender in Lorain County, and midfielder Jamie Meiser are confident.
“I would definitely think we can get through this next game,” said Lavelle. “There’s no excuse for losing to someone you beat earlier in the season, especially because we have worked twice as hard to get where we are now. I definitely think we can handle it Wednesday. I believe in our team.”
Meiser said she knows Chagrin Falls will want to avenge the regular-season loss.
“If I were them, I’d definitely want to beat us,” she said. “I know they’re going to come out hard, so we need to play our game. I think we should win if we play well.”
All of which is fine. But Chagrin Falls starts five seniors, including its goalkeeper, Alison Moy. Avon starts four freshmen and a sophomore, which sounds as though the Eagles are giving something away in terms of experience.
Not necessarily, said Meiser.
“Being a freshman and starting with the varsity is a huge deal,” Meiser said, “and I think these freshmen have really stepped up. Throwing in a bunch of freshmen at the beginning was really hard, but I think we’ve gelled really well.
“It was crazy, it’s amazing that we won on Saturday,” she added. “That was important for the seniors and we really appreciate the freshmen trying to win for us.”
The fact that freshmen are a big part of the season has been a factor in the team’s success.
“I thought last year would be our year to do something, but we didn’t,” said Lavelle, who has started every game since she was a freshman. “We lost 10 seniors and we’d all played together. Losing 10 seniors and having all the freshmen we have this year — to do something like this is totally unexpected.”
“It’s really been different,” said Irwin. “It’s been a year of unknowns, really. At the beginning of the year, I was excited about the number of kids and what that held for the future. We went away to Ashland University for a team camp and all the freshmen went.
“I started to get a little excited sitting back and watching these freshmen play and figuring out where some of them will factor in. My only concern was size. I chuckled the whole time we were in Ashland thinking that with all these freshmen, this is the smallest team I’ve ever coached. We don’t have a lot of big bruisers.”
Case in point: Sammy Bender, a freshman and one of the Eagles’ leading scorers, is 5-foot-1.
“But their personalities – they’re a little bit more carefree than some of the older girls,” Irwin said. “You could tell they were glad to get here and were willing to work hard, but they knew how to have fun. It’s great to have that kind of youth. It’s nice to have that energy out there and the older girls quickly realize this is a big plus.
“The whole season has been a huge surprise. It’s a fun group of kids to be with and their enthusiasm gets in you. You come to practice and they’re willing to do anything. They do it with enthusiasm and it becomes infectious. We’re all having a good time.”
Contact Bob Daniels at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.