GENEVA—The Chagrin Valley Conference doesn’t include an official championship game, but that situation presented itself when Kirtland and host Geneva entered Tuesday’s game at SPIRE Institute with identical 5-0 records in the Valley Division.
The Eagles scored two first half goals and added a third in the second half to win 3-1 to clinch its first league title since 2010.
“This was huge,” Geneva coach Jeff Hull said. “I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Kirtland, they are an incredible team. They came out here tonight and they battled and fought for 80 minutes. I’m just glad we were able to hang on and come out on top.”
Early on, Kirtland peppered Geneva senior goalkeeper Joe Carley with point blank shots on target.
Carley, who finished the night with six saves, weathered that storm and the opportunistic Eagles took a 1-0 lead when John Jackam booted a loose ball into the net with 25 minutes left in the first half.
“Joe Carley is the best keeper in the state, bar none,” Hull said. “This kid keeps us in every single game. This is his senior year, a four-year starter; I don’t have enough to say about him. Every time the ball is shot on net, I know he’s going to save it. Every once in a while teams get one past him but it’s a blessing to have him back there backing us up.”
Less than two minutes later, Kirtland was called for a foul in the box and Cole Vennis converted the penalty kick to push the Geneva lead to 2-0.
It remained that way until Peter Vukovic scored with 17 minutes remaining in the game to cut Kirtland’s deficit in half.
While Kirtland upped its intensity on the offensive end, Geneva’s Daniel Wilms took advantage of an opening on the other side to push through the Eagles’ third goal of the night with just 5:56 remaining in the contest.
“I didn’t think it went in,” Hull said. “I kept asking my assistant coach, ‘Did it go in? Did it go in?’ He said it went in and that was huge. They’re such a talented team offensively and for them to get that one, I knew that they were going to come back really strong so that third one was gigantic.”
Geneva held on for the win and improved to 9-5-1 overall and finished league play with a 6-0 mark.
Kirtland dropped to 11-3, 5-1 but the Hornets still have a lot left to play for.
“We have a second season to fight for with the playoffs and districts and regionals and we know where we were last year,” Kirtland coach John Valentic said of the Hornets’ run to the Division III Final Four. “This performance, we lost by our own style and I’m okay with that. I didn’t want to resort to clearing the ball. I wanted to play in the back and we played in the back. Our technique let us down a little bit and we coughed up the ball up, but we’re going to live and die by our own ideas and I’m okay with that. I’m not going to adopt another identity because we wanted to win.”
Valentic knows if the Hornets are to repeat their postseason performance from last season they’ll have to convert on those early shot attempts they missed at Geneva.
“That gave them momentum and confidence and they built up off of that and they got a goal,” he said. “After that, it was hard to break down nine and 10 guys in the back and two guys up front, but we’ve got more to play for.”