SANDUSKY—Under Ed Bradac, Kirtland’s girls’ soccer program has developed into one of the premier programs in Northeast Ohio.
After Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Liberty-Benton in a Division III state semifinal at Firelands Medical Center Stadium, the Hornets finally get to play on the biggest stage of them all. Kirtland advanced to Friday’s Division III state championship game against Cincinnati Summit Country Day at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus.
“I’m just happy for all of these people,” said Bradac, who has guided the Hornets to a 162-71-28 record in 14 seasons. “This is not about me. I love the fact that as a community we come together, the parents, alumni, and our athletes. It is that family feel that we keep talking about and that’s what’s special to me. Win or lose tonight, I knew we’d have that support.”
The Hornets had their hands full with the Eagles, winners of the Findlay District and Region 10 title. Liberty-Benton entered the game having outscored their postseason opponents, 12-0, and fired off several shots at Kirtland goalkeeper Gabby Culotta in the first 10 minutes of the contest.
Kirtland finally adjusted to Liberty-Benton’s speed and managed to mount several attacks.
“That first 10 minutes, it was that feeling out period but we didn’t do much feeling,” Bradac said. “We were basically, ‘batten down the hatches.’ To their credit, they came out on fire. We did not come out nearly as hard as we probably should have or could have. That’s a credit to their coach and that team. For me, we weathered that first part and then we started stringing some passes together.”
Those passes led to an organized attack that resulted in several corner kick attempts.
The Hornets took advantage of one such try when Emily Ungrady finished off a Hannah Vouk corner for a 1-0 lead with 2:08 left in the first half.
“The goal was to work wide because they stay compact and play deep,” Bradac said. “Their goalie is outstanding and I was immensely impressed with their youth, that’s a scary team for years to come, and that they had as much speed as they had in the back. The goal was then to loosen it, play wide and work the ball back in and if you play wide, earn some corner kicks out of it. That’s why I’m yelling, ‘Take the ball to the corner, take the ball to the corner,’ and to our credit, we earned a couple and we scored.”
Kirtland amped up its attack in the second half and held Liberty-Benton’s dangerous offense in check until Savanah Richards converted a penalty kick to tie the score at 1-1 with 25:37 left in regulation.
The Hornets used another corner kick to set up Vouk’s game-winning goal with 13:49 on the clock.
Lidia Rodin’s corner kick was cleared back to Jess Hepper, who stepped up and fired a ball back into the box. Katie McCollister then tipped it to Vouk for the finish.
“It hit off of Katie and I was like, ‘Now’s the chance,’” Vouk said. “I thought it was going to go in. I said, ‘We need this. We have to get this. We want this,’ and it went it in. It was exactly what I wanted to happen.”
Liberty-Benton bounced a shot off the crossbar with eight minutes left in the game but the Hornets held on for the win.