After losing scoring stars Amanda Watson and Ashley Cieselczyk to graduation following 2007, the defending Toledo City League champion Clay Lady Eagles soccer team was expected to be in a bit of a rebuilding mode this season.
Instead, the girls have stormed out of the gates soaring once again at 6-0-2 and already in great position to secure at least a share of a second consecutive league crown.
This has happened despite the team having only one senior in midfielder co-captain Toni Hernandez playing, after the other, fullback Monica Reeves, was lost for the year due to concussion symptoms.
Hernandez stated the youth-laden squad is doing just fine without a substantial senior core.
“Each of us has stepped up to lead,” she said. “We always back each other up.”
The undefeated first half of the Lady Eagles’ campaign has transpired even with the top returning scorer from a year ago, sophomore forward Alexis Donnelly, being lost to a rare illness that temporarily paralyzed her following the team’s 1-0 win at Perrysburg August 20.
The success has included a few close call wins over Anthony Wayne, the Lady Jackets, Notre Dame, and Central Catholic.
In the case of the victories over AW and Perrysburg, and a recent 2-2 tie with St. Ursula, the argument could be made that Clay was outplayed.
But the 2008 Lady Eagles have become accustomed to breaking conventions and standards.
They’ve done it with resilience, bravery and a work ethic coach Scott Wamer couldn’t be prouder of.
“We’ve got some girls that are just working hard,” Wamer said. “With the talent we lost and nobody believing we’d be where are, I think we’re the biggest story in Northwest Ohio right now.
“A lot of talk is we keep getting outplayed, but yet we keep getting the job done.”
With Donnelly out, it’s been junior midfielders Megan Scharer and Nikki Steinmetz who’ve combined to score nearly half of Clay’s 19 goals on the season.
Scharer leads the cause with six tallies and a pair of assists. Steinmetz has added three scores and three assists.
“When we have our opportunities, we capitalize on them,” said Scharer, whose beautiful 25-yard free kick in the first half against St. Ursula gave the Lady Eagles a 2-1 lead. “We’re very resilient.”
Once Donnelly went down, Wamer put some added responsibility on freshman sensation Brooke Thompson, moving her from an accustomed defensive role up to forward.
Thompson has responded with a pair of goals, but the team concept has been the real story for the Eagles offense is that 11 different players have scored.
While averaging just 2.38 goals for through eight matches, Clay relies heavily on a stingy defense, one that has allowed just five goals to date.
Junior Hallie Thompson, who split time in net as a sophomore with then-senior Jessica Dolt, has played every minute of this season in net, and done it well with a sparkling 0.63 goals against average.
A quartet of juniors in third-year starting sweeper Eryn Simon, stopper Alyssa Powell and fullbacks Morgan Magditch and Erika Mills as the other key defenders.
“Simon is a difference-maker on the backline,” Wamer said. “I think she is one of the best sweepers in Northwest Ohio.
“The defense has risen to the occasion so far.”
If Clay knocks off Toledo Christian on the road September 22, the City League title will be secure again, but Wamer is still disappointed that it may be shared with the Arrows.
Why? Because Clay had St. Ursula and a sole shot at the crown in tow until the Arrows scored with 1:24 left to play September 10 at Clay.
“They outplayed us,” Wamer said, “but it’s a tough (loss) to take when we couldn’t ride it out.”
Where the Lady Eagles go from here depends on how well they handle a tough remaining regular season schedule that starts with five consecutive away games followed by a three-game home string to end the non-playoff slate.
Those three games will be difficult, as well. Top state program Ashland visits October 4, Southview on the 6th and then another strong program in Brunswick on the 11th.
Dealing with adversity, however, is something this Clay contingent has already mastered. The odds are in their favor to finish things off in spades.
“These girls work hard, play well together and they never give up,” said Wamer.