Two things were clear as the North Ridgeville girls soccer team wrapped up a 1-0 home victory over Westlake on Sept. 18.
The first being that junior Emily Steinmetz’s goal in the 34th minute held up as the lone score.
And, perhaps most importantly, these weren’t the same Rangers of seasons’ past.
The team added a pair of highly-skilled players in freshman Bella Antonio and junior Mady Rosado, a transfer from nearby Lake Ridge Academy. The rest of the roster’s returnees worked hard to improve in the off-season, and the results have added up to a staggering turnaround.
At this time last year, the Rangers were still seeking their first victory. After its victory over Westlake, coupled with a Berea-Midpark loss at Amherst, North Ridgeville took sole possession of first place in the Southwestern Conference.
“You bring in a goal-scorer (in Rosado), and then you add another goal-scorer that’s fearless (in Antonio), and the team is essentially the same,” Rangers coach Chris Moore said. “I have freshmen that have played outstanding, and then Mady came from Lake Ridge. And then just all the young players who played last year; it’s just their growth. It’s just the belief in our system. Before, it was we’ve got to try a little bit of this, a little bit of that to figure out a way to generate a goal and now it’s a little different.”
There was further proof that the Rangers (8-2, 5-1 SWC) are a much different team in 2019. They outshot their perennially strong opponents 15-3 (5-1 on goal), played aggressively through the midfield and halted Demon (5-2-4, 2-2-2 SWC) attacks before they could gain traction. Defensively, they made sure to protect their lead throughout the second half.
“Our focus has been the conference since the beginning,” Moore said. “They’ve played really well in all the conference games. Even the game we lost, so it’s another step along the way. This was a big win; (Westlake’s) a team that’s been playing really well of late.”
Westlake, dealing with a team-wide flu bug that cost it several starters and forced leading scorer Sami Jablonski to miss the entire second half, managed one shot by halftime and recorded its first shot on goal in the 63rd minute. While the team was largely stout in front of sophomore goalie Lilly Voiklis (four saves), it was a step behind the Rangers at times and allowed nine first-half shots, several of which would’ve been troublesome if on-target.
“The effort and the fight was good for what we had tonight,” Demons coach Dane Rimko said. “We had a couple of half-chances if we would’ve taken them. But we had a good game plan tonight and kind of held (North Ridgeville) to what we knew their strengths were.”
In the 16th minute, a North Ridgeville shot bounced off the crossbar during a flurry of close-calls. In the 18th, a contested Antonio header in front of the net sailed wide left. In the 20th, Rosado sent another shot off the crossbar. Then Steinmetz finally broke through.
Driving into the box to the right of the goal, Rosado sent a shot toward the left of the net that nicked the post and rolled out to Steinmetz, who sent the rebound past Voiklis for the 1-0 lead and her second goal of the season.
“We really needed a goal to get our confidence in the game and just push ourselves,” Steinmetz said. “And it went in. It felt really good and it boosted our confidence.”
After the Rangers held on, Rimko said their change this season was noticeable, especially with the additions of Antonio (12 goals, four assists this year) and Rosado (12 goals, five assists). Senior co-captain Lindsey Moore is a team leader with five assists, and senior keeper Alexis Klingelheber made a save Wednesday, her 30th of the season.
Westlake’s loss to North Ridgeville was its first against the Rangers since the reforming of the SWC in 2015. Including tournament matchups dating back a decade, the Demons had won six in a row head-to-head by a combined score of 27-3.
“When you have all eyes on (Rosado and Antonio), they can really facilitate and make plays, and putting the ball in the net helps,” Rimko said. “They’re definitely more together as a team, and when the SWC’s good everyone’s good, so that’s nice to see.”
The Rangers had a week off from competition and will head to Avon for a 7 p.m. kickoff tonight. On Saturday, they’ll travel to Elyria for a noon start.
“I think our mentality (is different),” Steinmetz said. “We just work well together and we’re really supportive of each other…I think it’s our mentality and we just have to keep pushing each other and being there for each other.”
Westlake will attempt to climb back into the SWC hunt tonight when they play host to Amherst at 7.
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