The clock struck 12 for the Westlake girls soccer team.
On Thursday, the seventh-seed Demons’ Cinderella tournament run came to an end in a 4-0 loss to top-seeded Strongsville at Byers Field in Parma. Leading up to the teams’ District final match, the Demons beat No. 2 Magnificat in penalty kicks on Oct. 17, and bested No. 3 Amherst 2-1 on Monday.
“Everyone wrote us off,” Westlake coach Dane Rimko said. “We were the seventh seed, we finished six in a really tough (Southwestern) Conference. I think we had a better overall record than two out of the six times. It’s always nice when you can surpass people’s expectations.”
Despite Thursday’s lopsided scoreline, after 40 minutes, it was only a one-goal game.
Strongsville (15-2-2) dominated the time of possession in its attacking half of the field, but Westlake’s tenacious defense left the Mustangs little room to operate.
It wasn't until the 19th minute that junior forward Shelby Sallee broke the scoreless tie on a second-chance shot in Westlake’s box. In the first half, the Demons faced seven shots (four on goal) and goalkeeper Lilly Voiklis turned away three shots.
The Demons, however, couldn’t sustain any offense in the first half. Westlake managed just two shots (neither on goal) from senior co-captain Sami Jablonski. She added two more off-goal shots in the second half along with Lydia Choban, also with a shot.
“I think we progressed to playing better over the first half,” Rimko said. “We started out a little bit slow, I think (we) were a little bit nervous. They settled the game a bit. I think the first 10 minutes of the second half was our best part of the game. I’m really proud of how they played tonight. Their effort was sublime.”
Just six minutes into the second half, the Mustangs doubled their lead. Following a Jablonski foul that drew her a yellow card, Libby Majka looped a free kick over the head of Voiklis to put Strongsville up 2-0. Strongsville added two more in the 60th and 67th minute on goals from Coley Sidloski and a second from Majka.
Strongsville added another seven shots (five on goal) in the second half
“We were trying to get in (in the first half), but they’re a really good team,” Strongsville coach Todd Church said. “Here’s the key to the match: We asked Shelby Sallee to come back into the midfield and play because we were down a midfielder. Not only did she come into center-mid and play an outstanding game defensively, she scores. Talk about doing it all.”
Jablonski is one of eight seniors (Choban, Christina Turk, Hanna Bauer, Noorina Khatib, Stephanie Randar and Bridget Stroski) graduating after this season.
“I think (this group of seniors) showed a great example (for the underclassmen),” Jablonski said. “We overcame some adversity in the middle of the season. We won out the rest of the season and had those two big upsets. Leadership is really important with a team like this.”
With her senior season now over, Jablonski reflected on what this final year with Westlake has meant to her. Coming into this season, Jablonski missed all of her junior year with a torn ACL and began the season with Rimko in his second year with the team.
“Getting back (to the District final) – because this is where I ended my sophomore year – and being gone the entirety of my junior year and getting back here means the world to me,” Jablonski said. “(Magnificat and Amherst) were personal for me and I know the rest of the team too. It’s really special that we made it here.”
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