Three Rivers champs, Clay faces tough tourney test

J. Patrick Eaken

        Clay girls soccer won a Three Rivers Athletic Conference championship and has been primed to take the next step in the Division I tournament.
        Clay is 11-5-1 and finished 6-1 in the TRAC, while Notre Dame and Findlay were 5-1-1 and St. Ursula finished 5-2.
        The Eagles defeated Notre Dame, 2-0, and Findlay, 5-0, but lost to St. Ursula, 3-0. In a district semifinal, Clay avenged their loss to St. Ursula by routing the Arrows 5-0.
        The issue that Clay faced next was Northern Lakes League co-champion Perrysburg, who they played Thursday in a Division I district final at Springfield. A win would have sent Clay to the regional semifinals against the Anthony Wayne-Ashland winner on Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. at a site to be determined.
        Perrysburg, which shared the NLL title with AW and Sylvania Northview, and Clay had played to a 2-2 draw at Clay Memorial Stadium on September 14.
        “We tied Perrysburg, who got the No. 1 (district) seed, and we were beating them, and they scored with six minutes to go in the match and they tied it. That would have been a nice win, but it was still a good showing,” said Clay coach Don “Duck” Hess.
        The Eagles defeated Northview 3-2 but lost to AW, the defending D-I state runners-up, 4-1.
        “Our biggest win was probably over Sylvania Northview,” Hess said. “Obviously, in our league we beat Notre Dame, but they are down this year, so I am not calling it a big win, but we were able to beat Northview.”
        Hess takes pride in the Eagles’ schedule. Other losses were to Medina, 2-1, Ashland, 2-1, and Amherst Steele, 1-0. In Division I, Medina is ranked fourth in the state, Perrysburg is ranked 10th and AW is ranked 12th. Clay is not ranked in the state polls, but is fourth in voting by the Northwest Ohio Scholastic Soccer Coaches Association among Division I schools, but Hess wants to keep that kind of competition on the schedule.
        “It has been another great season,” Hess said. “It’s kind of funny — I would argue we have the toughest schedule in the state. We played Amherst out of (suburban) Cleveland, and he (Steele coach Gary Gonzalez) even commented on our schedule. My philosophy is the only way we are going to keep improving is keep trying to play the best as often as possible.
        “We can laugh about this, but we were playing Amherst Steele and they are a very solid team, one of the better teams we play all season. They scored the winning goal with one second left. A girl got in space outside the box, it was easily 25 yards and just drilled it. It was unbelievable. Literally, one second left,” Hess continued.
        The Eagles’ offense is led by senior forward Isabella Mabry, who has 36 points on 13 goals and 10 assists. She is one of only five seniors on the squad.
        Junior forward Haley Cannon, who Hess says has “stepped into an upfront position,” has three goals and four assists, junior midfielder Kailyn Ciborowski has three goals and three assists, sophomore defender Kelsie Katschke has three goals and one assist and senior center back Lauren Clark has three goals.
        “We’re pretty solid all-around. We lost a lot of seniors from last year, of course, but we’ve been able to not-so-much rebuild but reload,” Hess said. “I’ve got a real good junior class, I’ve got a handful of seniors that I would say, including Bella Mabry and Lauren Clark that other coaches know that when they plus us, they have to pay attention to them,” adding that Clark is the backbone of the defense.
        Junior Kayleigh Splichal has replaced Alan Miller Jewelers Goalkeeper of the Year Kennedy Slovak and has 46 saves and been a part of nine shutouts.
        Clark and Mabry are the two senior co-captains and are joined on the team by three classmates, forward Ava Tilton, midfielder Caitlyn Kulwicki and defenseman Sydney Nichols.
        Hess also loves his junior class, who he is confident will set his program up for next year. There are 13 juniors on the varsity. Ciborowski, Cannon, midfielder Delaney Coughlin and defenders Jaylynn Lewis and Molly Anderson have been starting full-time.
        Additional scoring has come from Nichols and junior forwards Marissa Garcia and Rylie Jones who have two goals apiece. Freshman defender Cheyenne Tabler has one goal and junior defender Maura Carr has an assist.
        Hess notes that the Eagles opened the season with three losses to Medina, AW and Ashland, but adds he has seen progress since then.
        “We got off to a slow start and lost three in a row, but I think it’s because early in the season we had to shut down for three weeks. They shut us down and then they shut us down for another week and then we had a week to prepare for our first game,” Hess said.
        “I think it sort of us took a while to catch up, but we did. And, when we are at our best, we can play with anyone in Northwest Ohio. We’re not good enough to have an off night against good teams, and they can’t either. In Division I soccer, there are about six or seven teams, us included, that were all capable of winning the district and that first regional match.”


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