ROCKY RIVER — Elyria Catholic coach Tony Rozanc has the luxury of preaching aggressiveness to his offensively talented team, so he urges his crew to treat each game as if they’re down by three goals at the outset — and score four.
They couldn’t manage any for 110 minutes of action Thursday night in the Division III district final, so the Panthers took the next best thing — five goals in penalty kicks.
All five Elyria Catholic players converted in the shootout, with senior captain Lauren Wisnor scoring the game-winner after goalkeeper Katie Gauntner stopped Wellington’s Janelle Pitts on the Dukes’ fifth attempt.
“(Wellington’s) plan was to pack its defense in and it worked,” said Wisnor, who had a goal and assist in Monday’s district semifinal win over Independence. “But we’ve been practicing penalty kicks since we were five games into the season to make sure we were ready for this moment.”
Elyria Catholic (13-2-4) will play Austintown district winner Atwater Waterloo. The Panthers advanced to the regional last year, losing 2-0 to Laurel in the semifinal. Rozanc said no Lorain County girls soccer team has ever advanced to a regional final.
Wellington (11-6-2) offered the Panthers their sternest test of the district tournament, as the Dukes kept Elyria Catholic quiet for all of regulation before Elyria Catholic turned it on in overtime. Much of the Dukes’ success revolved around their talented sophomore tandem of Brittany Mariast and Julia Marks, who controlled a good bit of the possession in the midfield area and tested Gauntner at times.
In the overtime sessions, though, Elyria Catholic flipped the aggressiveness on Wellington and sophomore keeper Kayla Sparks, who was up to the task.
It started in the 86th minute when Keeley Bursic, who scored in Monday’s district semifinal win over Independence, pushed a ball through for Ellingson, who crossed to Wisnor. Wisnor’s second touch was a half-volleyed shot that narrowly went over the crossbar.
The drama just was beginning. Three minutes later, Ellingson again crossed from her position up the left sideline, this time for Sara Pallendino, whose right-footed shot appeared headed for the lower right corner of Sparks’ net for the game-winner. Sparks, though, made an incredible diving stop to keep the Dukes alive, and she was up to the task again in the 100th minute, when Wisnor earned a free kick from 25 yards that Sparks punched away to safety.
“I do have a strong offense, but they stifled us and Kayla Sparks came up with some all-star saves,” Rozanc said. “They played a great game, and totally slowed us down.”
The teams then went to penalty kicks, and neither offered much resistance. Elyria Catholic’s Birsic, Kathleen Newman, Ellingson and McKenzie Rozanc converted, as did Wellington’s Megan Pitts, Grace Dooley, Marks and Shelby Cole. But Gauntner stopped Janelle Pitts’ shot, and Tony Rozanc’s strategy of having his only senior starter, Wisnor, up last proved smart.
“I was so nervous,” said Wisnor, a Walsh University recruit. “But you have to set the nerves aside and realize a PK is simply passing it into the goal. If you overthink it, you’ll overhit it or shoot it right at the keeper.”
Sparks made seven saves overall as the Dukes lost to the Panthers in the district final for the second season in a row.
“I thought this would be a pretty physical game with not a lot of offense,” Wellington coach Kevin Ziegler said. “I thought we’d get a few more chances on their goalie, but they did a good job of not allowing to get many open looks. Once you get into PKs, it’s anybody’s match.”
Elyria Catholic 1, Wellington 0
- GOALS: None in regulation. Penalty kicks: (W) Megan Pitts, Grace Dooley, Julia Marks, Shelby Cole; (EC) Keely Birsic, Kathleen Newman, Jenna Ellingson, McKenzie Rozanc, Lauren Wisnor.
- SHOTS: Wellington 10, Elyria Catholic 17.
- SHOTS ON GOAL: Wellington 7, Elyria Catholic 7.
- SAVES: (W) Kayla Sparks 7; (EC) Katherine Gauntner 7.
- CORNER KICKS: Wellington 1, Elyria Catholic 2.
- GOAL KICKS: Wellington 16, Elyria Catholic 7.
- OFFSIDE: Wellington x0, Elyria Catholic 1.
- FOULS: Wellington 12, Elyria Catholic 14.
- CARDS: (EC) Bench (yellow, 78th).
- HALFTIME: 0-0.
Contact Joel Hammond at 329-7135 or email@example.com.