KIRTLAND—After losing 10 seniors from last year’s run to the Division III state semifinals, Kirtland coach Ed Bradac wasn’t sure how his young team would come together in 2016.
He found out on Monday as the Hornets opened the postseason with a 9-0 win over visiting Pymatuning Valley in a sectional semifinal. With the win, the Hornets improved to 12-3-2 and host Grand Valley in a sectional final on Thursday at 4:00 p.m.
Earlier in the season, Kirtland had some trouble finishing off shots. With 13 goals in their last two games, and seven different girls finding the net on Monday, the Hornets appear to be jelling at the right time.
“I think it's just getting to know each other,” Bradac said. “When I look at the average age of our starting lineup, last year we were senior-laden, this is predominately sophomore and junior-laden. We have two senior leaders in Lindsay Ward and Grace Powers, but it's not the same.”
Ward and Powers both found the net in the win over Pymatuning Valley and have been among Kirtland’s most consistent players this season.
“There's a lot of really big shoes to fill for sure,” Ward said. “A lot of freshmen, underclassmen and the junior class, everyone is stepping up. It's not easy with there being only Grace and I as the seniors, so it was really nice to have everyone step up and playing these games where we get ahead. It's nice that we can get our bench players in to get some tournament experience to carry on the legacy next year when Grace and I are gone.”
Katie McCollister opened the scoring with a tap in off a Jenna Sayle shot in the sixth minute.
Ward followed that up with a chip shot over the keeper’s head three minutes later.
“Lidia Rodin had a really nice cross and then I tipped it,” Ward said. “Maya Zovko was able to get a foot on it to pass it back to me and I was able to chip it over.”
Zovko made it 3-0 when she beat the keeper to the left corner.
Lilia Valentic scored from a distance to make it 4-0 with 29:06 left in the first half. Powers was in the right spot to punch in a loose ball with 3:03 left in the half and Rodin closed out the first half scoring with a tap in to make it 5-0.
Zovko and Rodin collected each collected their second goal of the game early in the first half and Gabby Culotta, who tended the net in the first half, scored her first goal of the season off an assist from Liz Vernon late in the game.
“It (felt) awesome,” Culotta said of her goal. “It was my first goal of the season because I’m usually in the goal. It was awesome. It was a great assist from Liz and I just kind of put a foot on it. It felt really good to be able to contribute to the goal scoring of the game.”
Kirtland’s defense collected its ninth shutout of the season.
“The defense is amazing,” Culotta said. “We wouldn't have barely any shutouts this year. I (attribute) all of them to the defense. They are always there to back me up when I need help. We would not be where we are this year without the defense.”