CHAMPION - Champion girls soccer coach Dan Houle has stopped getting frustrated and accepted the inevitable.
He's not happy about it, but the veteran coach understands that his Golden Flashes are going to start slow more times than not.
"That ain't gonna change," he said. "It is what it is. The only thing that's going to change them is themselves. If they want to change it, they'll change, but that's the way they are."
They didn't change their approach on Monday in a Division III district semifinal against Garfield. Something else didn't change either - their second-half surge.
Amber Walker scored two goals, and the Golden Flashes' defense played a dominant final 40 minutes in a 2-0 victory at Champion Community Stadium, Champion's final home game of the season. The Golden Flashes now play Rootstown at 7 p.m. Thursday in the district final at Rootstown High School. The game is a rematch of last year's final, which Rootstown won, 5-0.
Walker doesn't expect a great start to that game either.
"It always happens," she said of the ugly beginnings. "Our first halves aren't the greatest, but we always score in the second half. That's our time."
It's a good thing because most of the time in the first half belonged to Garfield.
The G-Men (8-7-1) missed a few chances early in the game, including a free kick from 24 yards out that sailed just over the crossbar. Garfield briefly took control at that point, creating several scoring opportunities over the next 15 minutes. Their best chance came when a few nice passes led to a clear shot from the left side of the net about 10 yards out. It ricocheted off the corner of the crossbar, and the shot seemed to wake up the Golden Flashes (13-3-2).
"We were very panicked in the first half," Walker said. "When other teams play kickball, we tend to play kickball. It was our last home game, so I think we were a little too excited."
Walker calmed things down in the 32nd minute.
Champion's Izzy D'Urso headed a throw-in right into the path of Walker, who quickly turned and left-footed a strike past the G-Men's keeper. Considering how poorly Champion played up until that point, the fact it took a 1-0 lead late in the half was a great sign to Houle.
"It took them so long to get going, but once they get going ... it's like fire," he said. "They build on it. It took way too long, but they survived."
Walker, all-state sweeper Jenna Parry and a great defense were the main reasons why.
The Golden Flashes came out firing after the break, with two near goals in the first 60 seconds. Even though they dominated in the second half, Garfield keeper Taylor Brown kept her team alive with several spectacular saves. Walker finally got the best of her in the 60th minute. She did a nice job of controlling a great pass from Danielle James, which started a breakaway. Walker then tipped the ball up, just over a charging Brown, before calmly firing a shot into back of the net for a 2-0 lead.
Parry and the defense did the rest. The G-Men had just one shot on goal in the second half, and it came in the final minute, with the game all but over.
"I think I have the best defense in the area with that sweeper of mine," Houle said. "It was a group effort, but if you notice, not too many people got by (Parry). She didn't show too much speed tonight because she didn't have to, but she's quick and she's got fantastic skills."
She'll need them against Rootstown (13-2-3). Champion played the Rovers last year after Bristol, which defeated the Golden Flashes in the district semifinal, was disqualified for using an ineligible player.
"Yes," said Walker about whether revenge was on her mind. "We already lost (last year), so we felt like if we won, it wouldn't be right, so it was just awkward."
Don't expect any pity Thursday.