With a 4-1 win over Waterloo on Wednesday in the Division III regional semifinals at Brecksville High School, the Panthers become the first girls soccer team from the county to advance to a regional championship.
They’ll take on the winner of tonight’s Hawken-Rootstown game Saturday at Twinsburg High School at 3 p.m.
The Panthers scored three unanswered goals in the second half to break a 1-1 tie. Jenna Smith’s goal started the rally with 29:26 left.
She wasn’t thinking about taking the lead, or even winning the game. Her focus was on her father Joel, who died of cancer in August.
“My dad taught me everything I know,” Smith said. “Right when I scored, I was just like, ‘Dad.’ I haven’t really scored all season, and it means a lot that I got to score in the regional semifinals.
“I’m hoping he’s proud. I did it for him.”
Smith capitalized when Waterloo’s goalie, Brianna Ellsworth, tried to clear the ball, only to have it bounce off an Elyria Catholic player, right back into the box where Smith put it in the left side of the net.
Scoring helped ease the pressure the freshman felt playing in such a big game.
“I was so nervous,” Smith said. “I didn’t even want to play because I was so scared I was going to mess up. When I got the ball, I would get all tense. But right when I scored I just calmed right down and relaxed.”
Neither team could get anything going for the first 35 minutes until EC’s Sara Pallendino took a ball from the left side of the box and put it into the right corner of the goal. Pallendino finished with two goals, the second coming with a second left in the game.
The Panthers’ lead was short-lived, however, as Waterloo answered with 2:52 left in the half when Miranda Bennett managed to bounce the ball over Elyria Catholic goalie Katie Gauntner and into the back of the net on a weird play.
Still, it tied the game going into halftime.
“Game started a little crazy,” Elyria Catholic coach Tony Rozanc said. “I thought we were playing a dominating first half, but we couldn’t finish. I knew if we kept chipping away at it we’d eventually get a goal.”
In the second half, the goals didn’t stop. After withstanding a Waterloo run in which it possessed the ball on Elyria Catholic’s half of the field for the start of the second half, the Panthers broke through. First came Smith’s goal, then Danielle Dziak scored on a sliding goal off a feed from Jenna Ellingson.
Sliding was something she and coach Rozanc worked on leading up to the game.
“The fact that it was a sliding goal was exciting,” Dziak said. “We worked on the center-mids feeding me the ball and me finishing it off with a slide all week.”
Gauntner saved seven of Waterloo’s 11 shots and the Elyria Catholic defense hung tough especially on a number of breakaway plays. Vikings senior captain Emmy Jenior had three chances where she was one-on-one with a defender, including one where she sneaked past Gauntner after a missed shot to get her own rebound, but missed with the net wide open.
“My defense was outstanding today,” Rozanc said. “They were just out of this world and I couldn’t ask for anything more out of them.”
Elyria Catholic 4, Waterloo 1
- GOALS: (EC) Sara Pallendino 2, Jenna Smith, Danielle Dziak, (W) Miranda Bennett.
- ASSISTS: (EC) Jenna Ellingson.
- SHOTS: Elyria Catholic 10, Waterloo 11.
- SAVES: (EC) Katie Gauntner 7, (W) Brianna Ellsworth 5.
Contact Chris Sweeney at 329-7135 or email@example.com.