Clay girls soccer getting tested by Ohio’s best teams

J. Patrick Eaken

        If you want to be the best, you have to play the best. Clay girls soccer has already been tested by some of Ohio’s best.
        The Eagles opened the season with losses against two teams that could end up in the state rankings — Medina and Anthony Wayne.
        Both scores were 2-1, and against the Generals, the Eagles scored first but could not hold serve in a match that pitted the defending Three Rivers Athletic Conference champions against the defending Northern Lakes League champions at Clay Memorial Stadium.
        Despite the losses, Clay coach Don Hess believes his team will be in the hunt to win its third straight TRAC championship, saying his team is “very talented — more than last year,” plus they are experienced and with 16 returning letter winners there is even more depth this year. He adds that “the entire team is committed to being better athletes and soccer players.”
       “Right now, I feel very good about our team. We’re very talented,” Hess said. “We can play with the best in Northwest Ohio. We just have to get a little more connected as a team and start making the right plays — the simple plays sometimes and I think we will be OK. We just can’t let these losses get us down. I mean, we’ve played two of the best teams in the state so we’re right there and we’re going to be just fine.”
        However, Hess warns that in the TRAC, you never know what kind of opposing talent will jump out at you until you play them. He warns that “overconfidence and complacency” could be his team’s downfall.
        “The top half of the league is very competitive. The teams reload with young talented players,” Hess said. “We have already learned this season that we’re not going to win on just talent alone. The game is not played on paper. We still have to show up and play. The schedule was put together to compete against Northwest Ohio’s best girls programs and to go against some of the state’s best.”
        Clay responded to the two losses by turning the tables, hosting and defeating Olentangy Liberty, 2-1, and then tied Notre Dame in the TRAC opener, 1-1 Wednesday to start the season 1-2-1.
        In the first three games, senior striker Payton Rigg has two goals and junior midfielder Caitlyn Kulwicki and junior striker Bella Mabry have one goal and one assist apiece. Senior goalkeeper Kennedy Slovak has nine saves. Rigg is already set to play next year at NCAA Division I Ohio University and Slovak at D-II University of Findlay.
‘Very high work rate’
        Last year, Clay won the league championship with a 6-0-1 record, four points ahead of second place Notre Dame (4-0-3) and third place St. Ursula (4-1-1).
The Eagles finished the season 12-4-2 and had four first team all-conference players, including Slovak, who will play soccer at NCAA D-II University of Findlay. Slovak, the Alan Miller Jewelers Goalkeeper of the Year, finished the season with 10 shutouts, 77 saves, and gave up just 12 goals, including a string of seven games in a row where Clay’s opponent did not score.
        “She was instrumental in helping our team defend the TRAC championship. She made a handful of unbelievable saves. She is very gifted with athletic talent and great instincts,” Hess said.
         “She would tell you her back line defense has gotten a lot better from last year to now,” Hess continued. “The number of shutouts and the way she played in the St. Ursula match (a 2-0 win), that put us in position to (win the title) have a lot of meaning. She moves very well and she’s very instinctive. She’s a great teammate and a quiet leader, but she is doing a lot more talking on the field. She has a very quiet, confident demeanor.”
        Slovak got help from first team All-Press midfielder Rylee Clark, defender Lauren Clark and second team All-Press defender Jayla Musselman. The Clark girls have returned and are already inducing havoc into opponents’ games.
       Hess sass says Rylee Clark, a four-year starter, has a “very high work rate” and it shows. The senior will play collegiate soccer next year at Wright State University.
      “Rylee Clark has a high work rate, a high motor, and then continues to work hard for sure,” Hess said.
      In the loss to AW, Rylee Clark dominated at midfield and disrupted the Generals’ attempts to get their offense set up. She ended up with a combined 15 steals and interceptions.
      In that game the two co-captains, Rigg and Rylee Clark, teamed up for the game’s first goal. Rigg scored off a steal and assist from Rylee Clark just eight minutes and four seconds after the game’s opening kickoff.
     But they couldn’t hold first team all-state forward Hannah Rybicki in check as she had the game winner on a high, arching shot that barely got over and deflected off Slovak’s outstretched hands and into the net less than eight minutes into the second half.
     “I thought the first half we dictated play, but the second half it just seemed to turn and I wouldn’t say they had us on their heels but they were definitely dictating play the second half,” Hess said.
     Besides their All-Press honors, Rigg, Slovak, Mabry and both Clark girls were all-TRAC and all earned first or second team all-district honors last year.
       Rigg had 14 goals and six assists last year, Mabry had eight goals and seven assists and Rylee Clark and returning sophomore striker Haley Cannon had three goals and four assists each. Hess expects Rigg and Mabry to continue as the team’s top scorers this year.
        “Both very skilled technically — are natural scorers,” Hess said.
        Junior striker Mikaeli Katschke had three goals and an assist last year and sophomore midfielder Kailyn Ciborowski had two goals and three assists. Hess says Ciborowski “has an attacking mindset” and also “works at a high work rate.”
Also returning are senior fullbacks Jenna Vislay and Mariah Segura. Hess says Lauren Clark is the leader of the back line along with Vislay and Segura — all experienced defensive players.
        He adds that Ciborowski, Cannon and fullback Jaylynn Lewis, all sophomores, are among his most improved players.
        “They all have one year of experience, they have matured, and gotten stronger physically,” Hess said.
For Hess, this marks his fifth season as head coach, having accumulated a record of 44-21-9. He was a junior varsity and assistant varsity coach for seven seasons previously.


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