GREENFORD — The top-seeded Polish Bulldogs women’s soccer team knew they couldn’t take their opponent for granted in Thursday night’s Division III women’s district final.
After all, this opponent was riding a three-game winning streak in the tournament.
The Bulldogs were able to overcome a daunting challenge by the fifteenth-seeded Mooney Cardinals to earn a hard-fought 1-0 victory in the Akron District 2 title clash at South Range High School.
The win improves the Bulldogs to 17-3 on the season. The Cardinals finish the year with an 8-15-1.
The win also erases a heartbreaking 3-1 loss to Kenston last year in the District Finals. Now the Bulldogs will advance to face NE-8 rival Lakeview in a regional semi-final in Ravenna next Tuesday at 5:00 p.m.
Lakeview beat Waterloo 6-4 after penalties.
“That’s really, really big. That was our goal since we lost last season in the district finals,” sophomore forward Sophia Genralovich said. “That was one of our big goals and that do well.”
Although the season ended for the Cardinals in the contest, they have something to be proud of the season. They played a tough schedule which led to a very misleading seeding in the tournament and helped them prepare for tournament competition.
“I think a lot of people underestimated us,” Cardinals coach Angi Cvercko said. “We’ve played at many DI and DII schools and so our record didn’t show what we’re capable of. So going into District DIII we knew it would be a bit easier than what we played during the year, and it showed.
Both teams played solid defense punctuated by several good scoring chances in the first half as the Bulldogs threw a handful of long kicks that either sailed over the goal or bounced off the front of the goal. . But neither side could find the back of the net as they went through a scoreless first half.
“Our defense did an amazing job containing them,” Cvercko remarked. “Our midfield did a great job of controlling, and up top we had a lot of chances that we just didn’t finish.”
The Cardinals’ loss overshadowed a terrific performance by their goaltender, rookie Sophia Dibo. She blocked 11 shots in the contest as they were outscored 12-6 in the contest.
“It’s a position we put her in at the start of the year,” Cvercko said. “She played in defense and in goal, and she’s just been a monster there. She did such a great job in first year to come here and do what she did tonight, it was amazing work.
The Bulldogs would finally get on the scoreboard with what turned out to be the game-winning goal at 37:37 of the second half on a solid kick from Generalovich. She ran down the right side of the pitch and crossed the goal to find the back of the net.
“We were losing the middle, and I thought we needed to fix that, so we made some adjustments to put more pressure up top,” Bulldogs coach Neil Huda said of his second-half philosophy. “We kind of moved the last twelve minutes back to play more in a defensive style to try and hold them back.”
The Cardinals fought to the end and thought they had tied the game at 11:28 of the second half when Francesca Cassesse landed a hard kick on goal. The ball would slam down the left post and preserve the Bulldog’s slim 1-0 lead. Bulldogs goaltender Leanne Williams stopped all 6 shots she faced to claim the win.
“It stopped,” Huda said with a laugh as she described her heart. “I needed CPR there. It was a good game. I thought it was going to be a good game and it was.