ELYRIA — If the Elyria Catholic Panthers played their games on Sesame Street, they would all be brought to you by the letter ‘D,’ as in defense.
The Panthers have allowed only 27 goals all season and just three in their last six matches. That is one of the big reasons why Elyria Catholic was the state’s third-ranked team in the final Ohio Scholastic Soccer Coaches Association Division III poll and is heading back to the regional tournament for the third straight year.
On Wednesday, the Panthers will face No. 2 Mansfield Christian at Ashland Community Stadium.
“Our defense is the backbone of our team,” said Elyria Catholic coach Attila Csiszar, whose squad owns a record of 15-3-1. “One of the things you need to be successful in tournament soccer is to have the boys gel together at the right time. To come off the district final with a 5-0 win (against Lutheran West) shows me we are peaking at the right time. Now we need to keep that momentum going.”
Senior midfielder Ryan Medves has been one of the key members of the Elyria Catholic defense, although Csiszar said he has the talent to play anywhere on the field.
“In a different setting Ryan would be a midfielder, but he has such a good clean touch on the ball and he is such a versatile player I need to keep him in the back,” Csiszar said.
Medves said he thinks the Panthers’ previous tournament success could pay off this season.
“It helps a lot that we have matured as a team,” he said. “We know once you get to regionals there are no easy games. You have to play your best. I feel like if the defense can hold up, we can win all the rest of our games. We’ve grown together as a team and we know each other’s strengths and how to utilize that to our advantage.”
Csiszar credits senior goalkeeper Marty Conroy, who has four shutouts in his last five starts, with becoming a vocal leader and thinks that his maturity and decision making has helped to anchor the Elyria Catholic defense.
For Conroy, one of eight seniors on the Panthers’ roster, the fact that the players are playing for each other and not for themselves has been a key to the team’s success.
“All of the results we have are because we play as a team,” Conroy said. “The team chemistry has been great. We are pretty much brothers. We call ourselves a big family. We would do anything for each other on or off the field. If someone makes a mistake, we will pick them up and tell them to go make that next big play and score the goal to win the game.”
While many of EC’s seniors have college soccer in their future, for some, such as senior midfielder Luke Janosik, every upcoming match might mark the end of their competitive soccer careers.
“For a few of us, if we lose we’re done playing soccer,” Janosik said. “That creates a great sense of urgency because you have to play every game like it’s your last because it really could be. It brings an added level of excitement to every day because you don’t know if tomorrow you are going to practice or if you’re just going to school and going home afterwards.”
Elyria Catholic’s defense will be put to the test by the Flames, who enter the game at 18-1 and averaging over four goals a match.
“The quality of the teams we faced all year, the teams like Hawken and Western Reserve Academy are the types of teams you face in regional,” Csiszar said. “They are of a different quality, so that helps to prepare us for a team like Mansfield Christian.
If the Panthers are able to escape the Flames, they might be in a position to make a much deeper postseason run.
“It’s going to be a close game. Either way, we know Mansfield Christian is a good team,” Conroy said. “If we can beat them, we’ll know we beat one of the best, and then you just improve on that game.”
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Division III boys
No. 3 Elyria Catholic (15-3-1) vs. No. 2 Mansfield Christian (18-1)
WHEN: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Ashland High School, 1440 King Rd.., Ashland
AT STAKE: A berth in Saturday’s regional final against the winner of the Kalida–Ottawa Hills match.
DIRECTIONS: Take SR 58 south to US 250. Turn right on US 250 and stay on US 250 until it merges with US 42 South. Continue on US 42 South and turn right on County Road 995. Continue on County Road 995 until it turns into King Rd. Stadium will be on left side.
ELYRIA CATHOLIC PANTHERS
COLORS: Green and White
BOYS ENROLLMENT: 182
CONFERENCE: West Shore Conference
COACH: Attila Csiszar
LAST REGIONAL APPEARANCE: 2012, lost to Hawken, 2-0, in the regional semifinal.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Defeated Lake Ridge Academy 8-2 in the sectional final. Defeated Oberlin 4-0 in district semifinal and defeated Lutheran West 5-0 to win Rocky River district championship.
FAST FACTS: Over the past four seasons, Elyria Catholic has compiled a record of 56-17-4. The Panthers have held four of their last five opponents scoreless.
TOP PLAYERS: Juniors Gage Jarvis and Liam O’Halloran are two of the Panthers’ biggest scoring threats. Defender Ryan Medves and All-Ohio midfielder Michael Saddler are mainstays in the middle of the field, and Marty Conroy has been solid in goal, recording two postseason shutouts.
MANSFIELD CHRISTIAN FLAMES
COLORS: Red and White
BOYS ENROLLMENT: 81
CONFERENCE: Mid-Buckeye Conference
COACH: Jesse Rider
LAST REGIONAL APPEARANCE: 2012, lost to Ottawa Hills, 2-0, in the regional finals.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Defeated Tiffin Calvert 13-0 in the sectional final. Defeated Bluffton 5-0 in the district semifinal and defeated Liberty-Benton 2-0 to win the Tiffin district championship.
FAST FACT: The Flames have advanced to the state tournament twice, in 2000 and 2011, losing in the state semifinals to Hawken on both occasions.
TOP PLAYERS: Senior Josh Cochran leads the Flames with 21 goals, followed by junior Brendan Ernsberger, whose 18 goals include a hat trick in a district semifinal win over Bluffton. Sophomore Brandon Mount has 13 goals. Goalkeeper Caleb Young has 75 saves.
This is a matchup of teams that feel they have a chance to hoist the state championship trophy a week from Saturday at Columbus Crew Stadium. Both teams are battle-tested, with Elyria Catholic going on the road to defeat then No. 1 Hawken and Western Reserve Academy, in addition to playing a tough WSC schedule. The Flames also recorded a win against WRA to go along with three wins against bigger Division I programs. Mansfield Christen handed Liberty-Benton its only loss of the year in the district finals. The match could come down to a battle between the Flames high-powered offense and a stingy Elyria Catholic defense.