The Avon girls soccer team knew the challenge in front of it Monday night.
The Eagles traveled to play Strongsville, the No. 1 seed in the Division I Elyria District. Earlier in the season, Avon salvaged a draw against the Mustangs, a perennial powerhouse and multiple time State champions.
In Monday's District semifinal, which was a defensive battle for nearly all 80 minutes, the speed and strength of Strongsville overpowered Avon in a 5-1 win, ending the Eagles season.
“The girls played fantastic,” Avon coach Attila Csiszar said. “I couldn’t ask for anything other than, when it was 2-1, when we were pressing a little bit, that we get some luck and put on in the back of the net. It might have changed the outcome of the game.”
Strongsville (14-2-2) struck quickly in the first half when sophomore Coley Sidloski lofted a shot from outside the box that sailed just over the outstretched hands of Avon senior keeper Nicole Brearley (eight saves). A 36th-minute penalty by Libby Majka took the Mustangs into halftime with a 2-0 lead.
Despite being held scoreless and shotless in the first half, the Eagles (10-5-4) defense prevented, possibly, several more scores from Strongsville. On multiple instances, Strongsville either had possession in Avon’s box or beat the Eagles downfield on runs, but Avon defenders put a stop to those runs at the last second.
“We gave up a PK, we gave one up early in the match (and) that sets the tone for Strongsville,” Csiszar said. “We don’t give that up, it could potentially change the outcome of the game. At the end of the day, Strongsville’s just a quality program. For us to compete at this level and put together and a second half which I thought … (was) fantastic.”
Coming out for the second 40 minutes, the Eagles look like a renewed team. In a different formation, Avon peppered Strongsville’s goal with three shots on goal in a matter of six minutes. One of those, a 44th-minute shot from sophomore Abby Koly, slipped past keeper Reanna Laurell (three saves).
Avon recorded seven shots (four on goal) to Strongsville’s 20 (14 on goal).
The Eagles remained persistent down one goal, forcing corners on offense and not giving Strongsville any easy looks. Despite that pressure, the Mustangs added their third goal in the 61st minute when Libby Zacharysz scored off a corner.
Brearley stopped a second Strongsville penalty in the 65th, but just four minutes later, the Mustangs’ fourth goal came off the feet of Sidloski. Junior Alexa Martinez added the fifth and final goal in the waning minutes.
Brearley was taken off with less than four minutes to go with sophomore Casey Grant taking over the rest of the game in net. After the match, an emotional Brearley reflected on her Avon career and this season with the Eagles.
“I was just really upset that I’m not going to be able to play with my teammates anymore,” she said. “This group of seniors we had is really strong and I love them. (This season) was amazing and I loved every second of it.”
Strongsville is now just one game away from its fifth-consecutive Regional berth. The Mustangs head Thursday to Byers Field in Parma to play No. 6 Westlake in the District final. The Demons have pulled back-to-back upsets to get here, beating No. 2 Magnificat in penalty kicks on Thursday, and No. 3 Amherst 2-1 on Monday.
“Every single team that’s left now is really good, Strongsville coach Todd Church said. “Now they’ve caught fire. They’re that team that (has) caught fire late and you know it’s going to be a really, really good match.”
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