Sweet 16 is here for area high school soccer
With regional semifinal matches looming Oct. 31 (girls) and Nov. 1 (boys), Chris Lillstrung breaks down the chances for News-Herald area sides to advance to the elite eight.
UNIVERSITY VS. HUDSON
What: Division I regional semifinal When: 7 p.m., Nov. 1 Where: Solon, 33600 Inwood Road
Records: University 15-2-2, Hudson 11-6-2
What’s next: The winner advances to a regional final Nov. 4 against St. Ignatius or Massillon Jackson at a site and time to be determined.
What to look for: University could not have been any more emphatic in a 7-1 Division I district final win over Lake Catholic on Oct. 28. Back in regional competition for the first time since 2014 and fourth time since 2012, the Preppers may be making their first sweet 16 appearance in D-I, but they’re a load no matter which division they’re in. The defensive-third play, led by center backs Jake Hamilton and Jacob Duijser, has sparked US to 12 clean sheets and just 10 goals yielded in 2017. The attack is pacey and prolific, with junior central midfielder Griffin Meyer (20 goals, 11 assists) at the controls and senior George Nageeb (14-14) as an assertive holding mid. The Preppers’ combination play always has a purpose and uses the entirety of midfield as well as anyone in Greater Cleveland. Hudson is 8-2-2 since Sept. 12. Don’t be fooled by the record — the Explorers play a brutal schedule. Skanda Moorthy provided the match-winner in a 2-1 district final win over Stow-Munroe Falls in the 75th minute. Moorthy and Wilson Sattele key the Hudson attack, along with Ryan Sarkisian and Sebastian Kreiss. US has been adamant with a one match at a time approach all year, never putting too much stock in what has happened or what happens next, which is a benefit now more than ever as the stages grow in stature. If the Preppers can set a tone in ballwinning early and possess with its usual regularity, they have a good shot at grabbing a result here.
HAWKEN VS. MARLINGTON
What: Division II regional
semifinal When: 7 p.m., Nov. 1 Where: Twinsburg, 10084 Ravenna Road Records: Hawken 14-3-2, Marlington 15-3-1 What’s next: The winner advances to a regional final Nov. 4 against Warren Howland or Aurora at a site and time to be determined.
What to look for: As a program, Hawken certainly knows its way around this time of year, with 12 state final four appearances all-time. But this is new ground for this senior-laden side, as the Hawks haven’t been to the sweet 16 since 2013. The Hawks, at their best, are a confident group into the offensive third, paced by senior playmaker Reed Abrams and striker Zeki Zai. The issue at times, however, has been getting to that third and fourth pass with their touches to move with the intent longtime coach Dani Giulvezan prefers. Their opening 40s in a 4-1 district semifinal win over Perry and a 4-0 district final victory over Gilmour have been nervy, so it will be important for Hawken to show poise from the start and possess and move off the ball to their capability. Marlington is a familiar side in regional competition, with 10 appearances since 2004. This marks the Dukes’ fourth regional match against an area side, with losses against Lake Catholic (2015) and University (2013) and a win over Chagrin Falls (2011). They are led in the offensive third by standout senior Micah Kaiser (26 goals, five assists), and fellow seniors Joe Morris (7-5) and Evan McGuire (6-6) are capable playmakers as well. This match seemingly comes down to the defensive third. The Hawken backline, led by senior Jimmy Clark, needs to keep a good shape and minimize Kaiser’s touches. The same can be said for the Dukes trying to slow down the Hawks’ pace and limit Abrams and Zai.
MAYFIELD VS. HATHAWAY BROWN
What: Division I regional semifinal When: 7 p.m., Oct. 31 Where: Brush Records: Mayfield 14-3-2, Hathaway Brown 12-5-1 What’s next: The winner will advance to a regional final Nov. 4 against Walsh Jesuit or Massillon Jackson at a site and time to be determined. What to look for: To its credit, Mayfield has been making this regional advancement process old hat by now, as the Wildcats are in their fourth straight Division I sweet 16 after none in girls soccer in school history prior to this run. There are few sides with the type and variance of big-match experience Mayfield posssesses. The Wildcats’ attack is anchored by all-Ohio center mid Tyler Klika (8-5), who might have this area’s best workrate and sense for service. Up top, junior striker Cassie Lewis (18-5) is a persistent performer who absorbs contact well, which can make for a long match for a defender. Catherine Rock (9-10) has been outstanding as a sophomore. The defensive-third play has been a work in progress, going between three in the back or four with Klika as a deep holding mid. Sophomore goalkeeper E.B. Fluharty is coming off her best performance of the season, saving two PKs in a district final shootout win over Madison, and Coach Matt Lubin raves about her work on the training ground. Hathaway Brown is 3-1 against area sides this fall, with wins over Geneva, Kenston and Hawken and a tight loss to fellow sweet-16 side Lake Catholic. The Blazers are 9-1 since Sept. 11, and there is no shame in the three-match losing skid that preceded it against Lake, Magnificat and Bay. With a side that capable, Mayfield needs to strong with its ballwinning from the outset, use width and maximize set pieces, one of its strengths.
LAKE CATHOLIC VS. CVCA
What: Division II regional semifinal When: 7 p.m., Oct. 31 Where: Twinsburg, 10084 Ravenna Road Records: Lake Catholic 14-32, CVCA 14-5
What’s next: The winner advances to a regional final Nov. 4 against Canfield or Revere at a site and time to be determined.
What to look for: Lake Catholic emerged from the meatgrinder that was the area Division II district, surviving a 1-0 extra-time win in a district semifinal over Hawken and knocking out wire-to-wire Top of the Crop No. 1 side Gilmour in a penalty-kick shootout in a district final. The Cougars’ attack is young but highly capable, led by junior Kati Druzina. The Notre Dame recruit thrives no matter where she’s positioned tactically, as an attacking center mid or a striker up top in a two-forward pairing or on the outside in three up top. Even with sides who elect to go with marking, her pace, power and technical skill are a nightmare. Kennedy Solymosi might be this area’s best goalkeeper and showed it with three saves in the shootout against the Lancers. Her anticipation and positioning set her apart, and her experience has allowed a young back three to develop better in front of her. There is a veteran influence in midfield as well with seniors Kennedy Newhart and Brynn Morgan. Newhart stands out when put into a left outside mid role but can also be a ballwinner as a center mid. CVCA has won nine straight after getting routed by Hathaway Brown, 6-2, on Sept. 20. The Royals have a pair of potent attackers in freshman Payton Fraley (17 goals) and junior Kenzie Spodnik (16), and sophomore Maddie Critzer (eight goals) is also very solid. One thing worth noting is CVCA appears to be a bit susceptible in the back, with 27 goals yielded and six matches conceding two goals or more. So it will be important for the Cougars to test the Royals’ defensive shape from the start, including some diagonal play at which Lake can excel.
KIRTLAND VS. ROOTSTOWN
What: Division III regional semifinal When: 7 p.m., Oct. 31 Where: Solon, 33600 Inwood Road Records: Kirtland 12-4-3, Rootstown 13-5
What’s next: The winner advances to a regional final Nov. 4 against New Middletown Springfield or Elyria Catholic at a site and time to be determined.
What to look for: There is never reason to be alarmed when Kirtland has the occasional regular-season loss, because the point against larger-school sides is to be battle-tested when the Hornets get to the Division III postseason. This is perhaps a younger Kirtland squad than usual — certainly moreso than the 2015 state final four side — but the legacy of that run are the players leading the Hornets now, including seniors Hannah Vouk (four goals, 11 assists) and Maggie Kadas. Kirtland is at its peak when it combines and emphasizes wide play amid that process. Sophomore Maya Zovko (18-7) is one of this area’s most promising attackers. The Hornets have also shown growth in the defensive third, with six goals yielded and eight clean sheets since Sept. 11. Whether it’s been Kirtland now or Gilmour or Hawken before it, the area’s D-III representative has typically not been tested mightily in a regional semifinal. The Hornets played Rootstown a year ago in the regular season and rolled to a 3-0 win in which they subbed freely and the Rovers brought no subs on their bench to Lake County. With all due respect to Rootstown, which advanced with a shootout win in a district final over Warren Champion, its schedule is also not overly compelling with a .456 opponents’ win percentage. Provided Kirtland can possess well, combine with intent on a fast track at Solon and get an early goal, it’s hard to envision this being a tight match late. But the Rovers will obviously make them work as hard as they can for a result.
University’s George Nageeb tries to direct a header during the Preppers’ Division I district final win over Lake Catholic.