Story by Jim Horvath
Photos by Ryan Kaczmarski
The Rocky River girls soccer team went into Wednesday night's West Shore Conference game at Avon with a specific goal in mind:
Win the week.
After a playing a tough preseason schedule and possibly an even tougher first half of the regular season, the defending Division II state champions were looking to turn the corner in Week 5. With three road games in four days, including a pair of matches in Toledo, the Pirates knew that would be no easy task.
But on Wednesday night at Avon's Joe Firment Stadium, Rocky River notched its fourth victory of the season in convincing fashion. The Pirates scored a pair of goals in the first 11 minutes and ran away with a 7-0 win over the Eagles to remain tied with Bay atop the WSC standings.
"We started out at the beginning of the week saying we wanted to win the week," explained Rocky River head coach Patrick Hopkins, whose team moved to 4-2-2 on the season and 2-0-1 in the conference.
"That's what we talked about before the game tonight," he said. "We wanted to win tonight first, and we wanted start that by winning the first half. Then we moved on to the second half. What happened tonight was us piecing things together after playing all of those tough teams early.
"Tonight we really worked together as a solid team. We created opportunities and scored some nice goals," he added.
Rocky River had already run the gauntlet just to get to Avon, which fell to 1-2-1 in the WSC. A preseason game against nationally-ranked Northern Highlands of Allendale, New Jersey, plus scrimmages with Solon and Chagrin Falls and a road trip to Dayton, was the warm-up.
The Pirates' season started with a 3-0 loss at Brecksville and a 2-2 tie with arch-rival Bay. A second loss came in a 2-1 decision at Strongsville, currently ranked at the top of Division I in the OSSCA poll. River's second tie came at the hands of Springboro, a strong program from the Dayton area.
But on Wednesday night, the Pirates began to put things together offensively.
In the ninth minute, senior Eva Schneider ripped a long shot from 20 yards out on the right side. Avon keeper Rachel Grudzien made the stop, but could not secure the ball at the left lower corner of the goal.
In stepped fellow senior Jessica Vitou, who tapped in the rebound shot for her first of two goals on the night. With 31:32 left in the first half, the Pirates were off and running.
Less than two minutes later, River struck again. Senior Jillian Krebs raced up field with the ball and touched it ahead to junior Emily McDonald, who beat an Avon defender and shot the ball past a charging Grudzien for a 2-0 River lead with 29:40 remaining in the half.
"We did a great job of penetrating in the final third," Hopkins said. "We created opportunities and challenged their keeper.
"We were able to capitalize with some really nice goal scores. And getting those goals early really takes off some of the pressure. That's one thing we're lacking from last year. Last year, we were able to overpower teams so quickly that after awhile, you kind of took that for granted.
"All of a sudden, you're looking around wondering who's going to do it. So yes, it's nice to see that halfway through the season, we're getting there," he said.
His Pirates got there three more times in the first half. Vitou scored again at the 18:00 mark as she made good on a sharp-angled shot from the right side. Krebs scored on a high, arching shot that made it in just under the crossbar at 12:39, then freshman Olivia McDonald scored off a throw-in with 8:23 left in the half.
Rocky River scored two more goals in the second half, with Schneider zipping one in from 20 yards out in the 58th minute and junior Emily Soltes capping things off with a long-distance goal with 18:44 remaining.
With the Pirates controlling the ball most of the night, it was a relatively easy shutout win for junior keeper Sophia Braun. Avon had few threats on the night, with one Eagle shot hitting the crossbar in the 20th minute and an open shot rolling wide left in the 66th minute. The Eagles did not get a corner opportunity until the 79th minute.
Now it's on to Toledo, where the Pirates will face perennial powerhouses Perrysburg and Toledo St. Ursula.
"We're where we want to be, but we still understand what we need to work on," Hopkins said.
"We know we want to have success against the Springboros. We want to face teams like Strongsville and Brecksville and get the win. I'd love to play them later on in the season. We're developing, and it's all going to work out in the end.
"We're on schedule. We're in the right place, and we're where we need to be. As long as we keep progressing forward, we'll be fine," he added.
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Click on the camera below to view Ryan's photos from this game: