TWINSBURG—With a 5-0 win over Elyria Catholic in the Division III, Region 9 championship at Tiger Stadium on Saturday the Kirtland girls’ soccer team earned a return trip to the Ohio High School Athletic Association state Final Four.
The Hornets previously earned a trip to the state semifinals back in 2015.
“It’s different this year because in our mind we have unfinished business,” said Kirtland coach Ed Bradac. “I know that sounds like such a cliché, but two years ago it was the newness of it and every time we won it was like, ‘Ok, that’s great, what’s next?’ Now we know what’s next and it’s such an advantage by having those seniors and those juniors that were a part of it two years ago. Coming back, we’ve been here, so it’s not new anymore and I love that about it.”
Seniors Hannah Vouk and Maggie Kadas were sophomores on that squad while juniors Jenna Sayle and Lauren Lutz were freshmen contributors.
“This is the second time we’ve done this and the feeling of happiness is the same, but the feeling of accomplishment is a little bit different because we play so differently,” Vouk said.
The Hornets will play Region 10 champion Liberty-Benton at Sandusky Perkins High School on Tuesday at 7:00 p.m.
Elyria Catholic entered the regional championship match riding a four-game shutout streak. The Panthers had outscored their playoff opponents, 20-0, but Maya Zovko changed that when she tapped in a loose ball off Lidia Rodin’s corner kick with 26:57 left in the first half.
Sayle made it 2-0 when her perfect strike off another Rodin corner kick found the back of the net with 11:33 left in the half.
The Panthers had allowed just two goals off set pieces during the regular season.
“It took us a little time,” Bradac said of building a 2-0 halftime lead. “There was a stretch there where they were in our end. For us to get up 2-0, that was pretty calming, but we knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game and it wasn’t. The score wasn’t indicative of it, but it wasn’t as easy as it seemed to be.”
Kirtland’s third goal came midway through the second half when Katie McCollister cut through the middle of the box to finish off Sayle’s corner kick.
Zovko added a second goal with 2:59 left in the game and Mia Rini closed out the scoring with her second goal of the season with just 39 seconds left on the clock.
The Hornets recorded their 12th shutout of the season largely due to the play of Téa Petric, who man-marked Elyria Catholic’s top player, Ryan Kunkle, the Lorain County Player of the Year.
“She had 40 goals and like 17 assists coming into the game,” Bradac said. “(Petric) is so calm, almost too calm at times, but this game, she was our MVP. I know we have goal scorers but it’s our defense as a whole and she knows that. I love what she said. She said, ‘Coach, I know that if I get beat I know that I have Jess (Hepper), Danielle (Bryll), Maggie and Gabby (Culotta) behind me and that’s all the confidence I need.”
After starting the season 0-3-1, the Hornets have won 14 of their last 17 games to improve to 14-4-3 on the year.
That slow start wasn’t by accident.
Bradac loaded up his schedule with top Division I and Division II programs to prepare the Hornets for what he hoped was a long postseason run.
“I asked my dad at the beginning of the season, ‘Why are we sucking? Why are we losing so much?’” Vouk said. “He said, ‘Bradac, he has a method to his madness.’ It’s as simple as that. We suffered for a little bit but it’s a huge payoff.”