By Michael Rich
Only one team out of the 172 Division I girls soccer programs across Ohio gets to go out a winner.
After Tuesday’s 3-1 state semifinal setback to Loveland, Olentangy Liberty won’t be that team … but it came pretty close.
Clare Beran scored a pair of goals less than three minutes apart to help Loveland advance to the state final and end the Patriots’ dream season at the Centerville Soccer Stadium.
“(Loveland) is a very good team,” Liberty coach Kristen McMahon said. “I don’t think they’re the best matchup for us – (they’re) very physical. They brought a lot of intensity in the first half and we really let them derail us from what we typically try to do.”
Beran’s goals both came off corner kicks by Megan Schuster.
“We knew they were dangerous on set pieces,” McMahon said. “We were hoping that we could stop that and, obviously, we weren’t successful. I think the intensity after the back-to-back goals really hurt us.”
Schuster took a corner kick from the left side that Beran headed past Patriot goalie Emma Campbell with 10:54 remaining in the first half.
Beran put another Schuster corner kick in, this time off the right corner, just over two minutes later to give the Tigers a 2-0 lead with 8:37 remaining in the half.
“We looked to put a lot of pressure on in the first half,” Tigers coach Todd Kelly said. “We spend an enormous amount of time on set pieces and corners. Sixty percent of our goals are on set pieces. We feel very good that if we get set pieces, we’re going to be very successful. It played out that we were able to get two of them.”
The Patriots came to life in the second half when Jordan Fike scored off a ball deflected by Loveland goalie Lauren Parker, who got her hands on a Sydney Weaver crossing pass, but couldn’t collect it with 18:52 remaining in the game.
“We were able to use the width of the field (in the second half),” McMahon said. “The goal that we got, we were able to dribble it down the left side, and when we were using the width, we were successful.”
“We knew that anything that’s loose, (Liberty will be) all over it,” Kelly said. “It put us on our heels.”
Liberty had two corner kicks and a free kick after that, but they were all thwarted when Parker knocked the respective balls out of the zone for Loveland.
The back breaker came a few minutes later when Colleen Swift broke free thanks to a pass from Brice Grieshop and found herself one-on-one with Campbell. She went low and to the right to beat the goalie for Loveland’s third goal.
Still, the Patriots made it two rounds further than any other team had in program history. They graduate four seniors – Hailey Pickelheimer, Meridith Shook, Fike and Emma Waters.
“All four of our seniors were on the field for the last 25 minutes of the game,” McMahon said. “That speaks volumes to what they’ve done for our program this year. They’re leaving big shoes to fill.”
But that gives McMahon most of her roster back for next season.
“It’s an exciting future to think about – we’re not losing a ton of girls, we’re losing key positions,” McMahon said. “I have faith that girls are going to step in and that we’ll be able to be just as strong next year.”
The Tigers will play Walsh Jesuit, which was the top-ranked team in the final coaches poll, for the state championship Friday night at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.