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It seems no matter how high they raise the bar, the West Holmes girls soccer team just keeps clearing it.
The Knights notched their second straight Div. II Eastern District championship with a 4-1 win over Minerva Tuesday at the Philo soccer complex. The win advances West Holmes to the Div. II Zanesville Regional on Tuesday, Oct. 30 against the Dover Tornadoes.
"This program has made tremendous strides in the last couple years," West Holmes coach Josh Wengerd said. "It sounds cliche, but every year we talk about raising the bar, and I feel we've been able to do that again this year. We've got more wins (14). That's the most we've ever had. We've done things this year that other teams haven't. We've received some votes in the state poll. We got the No. 1 seed. This is all new territory for us.
"I really think we're a team right there on the edge, and if we play well, great things can happen," he continued. "We have girls who are committed, playing year-round. We have multi-sports girls, well-rounded athletes who are conditioned and fit. Even though they are doing other sports, they'll find time to pick up a soccer ball and work on some foot skills. That's important. That's what it takes to build a program. Fortunately, we've got girls who want to do that."
One of those girls is forward Mallory Wahl, who got the Knights on the scoreboard in the final two minutes of the first half to break open a scoreless tie.
"That first goal woke us up I think," Wahl said. "It's fun having so many people who can score up front. Everyone gets a chance and teams can't focus on one person or another without someone else stepping up."
West Holmes completely dominated action in the first half, firing off 10 shots to Minerva's three, but it wasn't until Alex Brown intercepted a clearing attempt and hit Wahl, who worked herself free behind the defense and knocked in the goal with 1:43 remaining in the first half.
"Scoring that goal before halftime was big," Wengerd said. "That was a big momentum swing. I thought we should've had three or four. Eventually, we started doing what we wanted to do and we started scoring goals. We need to do that for 80 minutes, not 40."
The Knights went up 2-0 at the 29:05 mark of the second half when Abby Callahan fed Elise Neville with a cross and Neville drove it home.
"Once the offense scores, that puts the other team back on their heels," defender Courtney Kozak said. "That makes our job (on defense) a little easier."
Less than a minute later, Neville and Wahl worked a give and go perfectly, with Wahl banging home the goal at 28:33 to give the Knights a 3-0 lead.
A minute later, the Lions roared back with a goal off a direct kick. A shot hit the crossbar and bounded away from West Holmes keeper Shelby Harris. Lauren Haynam was there waiting and she banged it home to trim the lead to 3-1.
Callahan put the victory on ice for the Knights when she picked up a loose ball after the Lions were unable to clear, dribbled around a defender and blasted it past Rachel Blocher (7 saves).
"We move some of our forwards around, and we used a few subs, which makes it tough for teams to figure out who to defend," Wengerd said. "Slow start, bad touches; we're at a point where we can't afford to have those. One bad game and your season ends. We're capable of playing better. I guess we played good enough to win and we'll take that; we'll keep playing and move on from here. Hopefully we'll avoid those slow starts."
The Knights recorded a school-best 14th win, improving to 14-4-1 on the season. Minerva bows out at 12-3-4.
"It's a great feeling to be back-to-back champs. Coming into this game, I think we had more confidence than we did last year against River View, but it's still just as exhilarating to win this time," Harris said.
Harris made seven saves in goal, commending the work of her defenders in front of her.
"They make my job back there pretty easy," she said.
"The girls played well back there, but I think our touch wasn't there," he said. "These kids put a lot of pressure on themselves to perform well. Playing with that pressure adds an extra wrinkle to the game."
West Holmes held a 15-8 edge in shots on goal. The Knights got 10 corner kicks to one for the Lions.