The St. Ursula Arrows soccer team enters today's Division II state semifinals aiming to match a colossal upset it handed to one of the top teams in the entire country last season.
St. Ursula (13-5-3) captured a second straight D-II regional championship on Saturday to earn a rematch against No. 1-ranked Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit (19-0-2).
St. Ursula upset Walsh Jesuit, a program that has won five state championships, in the state semifinal last season. The rematch takes place at 7 p.m. today at Sandusky Perkins High School.
In Division I, top-ranked and undefeated Perrysburg (21-0-0) is making the program's first appearance at state. The Yellow Jackets won their first regional title on Saturday. They take on defending state champion Strongsville (19-1-0) at 7 p.m. today in a state semifinal match at Sandusky High School.
Both teams are hoping to become the first girls team from northwest Ohio to win a state title.
“The kids truly feel this is the team that can make it happen,” said Perrysburg co-head coach Jorge Diaz.
Both teams would reach the biggest stage on Friday to play for a state tile at Columbus Crew Stadium.
The Arrows stunned Walsh Jesuit, which won a D-I state title in 2010, in a game that was decided on penalty kicks. St. Ursula's 1-0 win remains the Warriors' only loss in the last two seasons.
“I think the pressure is on them because they were the favorites last year, and they are again this year,” St. Ursula coach Chris Black said. “They are one of the best teams in the entire nation. But we have kids that have already beat them. We have to play our best just to have a chance.”
St. Ursula is the only program from northwest Ohio that has reached the state final four on multiple occasions. This is the third trip to the state semis as it also qualified in 2004. Last season, St. Ursula advanced to the first state title game in program history but fell 2-0 to Columbus St. Francis DeSales.
Black lost 13 letterwinners from that team, and he starts 10 freshmen.
“But they're no longer freshmen at this point,” Black said. “We wondered where the goals were going to come from. It took some time but now we have a wide scoring attack.”
He said all of the classes have stepped up.
Senior Megan Rafac, who will play at Michigan State, plays a holding midfield position, covering the opponent's most dangerous player.
“She's one of the most dominate players in northwest Ohio,” Black said. “She distributes to go forward and helps defend. She takes most of our set pieces.”
Freshman Jordyn Greer has scored a team-high 13 goals and has four assists this season. Greer has scored four of St. Ursula's nine goals in the postseason.
The other top forward is Tori Jeffries, who has six goals and four assists.
Junior goalie Sydney Yeager has eight shutouts, including four of five in postseason games. Yeager and the Arrow defense have yielded just one goal in the playoffs.
“She has done a fantastic job to prepare herself, physically and psychologically,” Black said. “She's taken a huge step up.”
In front of Yeager, defenders Kyla Sofo and Rachel Wainz have been consistent, along with center backs Haley Clear and Sarah Staelgraeve.
Sophomore Allie Farell scored the game-winning goal in the regional final on Saturday. Freshman Megan Christopher has been strong defensively, while Celia Oatis has a team-high 10 assists.
Walsh Jesuit won both state titles and national championships (based on polls) in 2000, 2006, and 2010.
Walsh Jesuit knocked off Canfield 3-0 to win a regional title on Saturday.
The Warriors' top player is senior Sandra Yu, who has committed to play at Notre Dame. The captain and forward earned first team all-state honors last year.
“She's been one of the top-rated kids in all of America,” Black said.
Sophomore goalkeeper Libby Grace made just one save in the regional final as Walsh Jesuit outshot Canfield 13-1.
“They have a lot of top players from a large geographical area,” Black said.
Last year the game was scoreless through overtime. St. Ursula prevailed when its seventh shooter scored.
“Our goal is get back to Columbus Crew Stadium,” Black said. “We have the talent and ability to do it. We just need to pressure them and put them on their heels.”
Top-ranked Jackets to be tested
Perrysburg has been ranked No. 1 all season and has rarely been challenged while outscoring foes 105-5.
“They are level-headed, and they are embracing the bull’s-eye,” Diaz said.
Senior Maddy Williams, who will play at Purdue, has shattered the school record for goals scored in a season with 45.
Diaz said Williams is among the majority of players on the team that play year-round for travel teams.
“They all play club soccer, and that helps with continuity,” Diaz said. “We've also been successful because we have very good chemistry going on.”
Diaz said Williams is the top offensive player that northwest Ohio has ever produced.
“She has a great nose for the game,” Diaz said. “She knows the game very well. The ball at her feet is an extension of her body. She does amazing things.”
The team's second and third-leading scorers are Lucy Walton and Allex Brown. Each have scored 13 goals and each scored in the Yellow Jackets' 2-0 shutout against ninth-ranked Medina in the regional final.
Diaz said senior Mollie Whitacre, who will play at Ohio University, is critical both offensively and defensively. Whitacre has five goals and six assists.
“She orchestrates on offense but also calms the storm on defense,” he said.
Goalie Chloe Buehler, who will play at Penn State, has fought through a back injury and has been back in the lineup for the last nine games.
“Having Chloe back has brought the team to another level,” Diaz said.
Diaz, who is the co-head coach along with Margaret Bernard, said the unique arrangement is beneficial.
“Margaret is the voice of reason,” he said. “I will watch one portion and she will see something else. That gives us an extra eye and voice.”
While Perrysburg had never reached the state semis, Strongsville has made 10 appearances and has won four state championships. The Mustangs have not lost since the second game of the season.
Strongsville is right behind Perrysburg in the state poll and is ranked No. 2. Last year, the Mustangs knocked Northivew out in the state semis (3-0), then defeated Dublin Jerome 1-0 to win the title. The Mustangs are outscoring their foes 65-5.
During the regular season, Strongville's Nicolette Greisinger and Alexis Manoa tied for the team lead in goals with 14. Melissa Shoff is third (12), followed by Alexandria Derkacs.
Diaz said Manoa is battling Williams for player of the year honors in Division I.
“She a very strong player and physical,” Diaz said. “Those are the top key players. We need to take special attention to them.”
Diaz said the teams scrimmaged in the preseason and have a very similar makeup and style. He said the key to Perrysburg making history is to play its own game.
“We will be the aggressor and attack and let the chips fall,” he said.
Contact Mark Monroe at:firstname.lastname@example.org,419-724-6354 or onTwitter @MonroeBlade.