Champion gets by LaBrae in overtime

GIRARD — Despite losing 12 seniors from last year’s district championship-winning squad, the Champion Flashes girls soccer team finds themselves back in the district title game.

Alayna Fell’s header in overtime gave Champion a 1-0 victory over LaBrae in a Division III Kent District semifinal held at Girard’s Arrowhead Stadium Monday night.

“Alayna always makes it happen,” Champion coach Shawnn Wilson said of the goal. “I was waiting for it, I didn’t know when, but it was textbook. What she did was textbook and that’s what she does.”

Both the first and second half were pretty much the same, as both teams had several shot-on-goal opportunities but continued to just miss out. Goalies Molly Williams (Champion) and Hannah Hill (LaBrae) played spectacular games with a trip to the district title game on the line.

Wilson said the main thing his Flashes did was mark up LaBrae captain Bailey Tennant with Anna Wolbert, as Tennant had given Champion some troubles in the teams’ first two meetings of the season.

“We were finding each other and making good passes, making good runs. I was very happy with the first half,” said LaBrae coach Diane Downey, whose team ended the season 11-5-3. “That’s always good when we’re keeping Champion to a 0-0 game by halftime.”

Downey said her club didn’t make a whole lot of adjustments at halftime, and based on their first-half performance, they really didn’t need to. By the start of overtime, both teams were visibly exhausted, as momentum continued to swing back and forth.

Finally, the Flashes had yet another opportunity to win the game with just 1:26 left in the first overtime period, as Lexy Gruver lined up for a corner kick. Gruver’s kick went right to a leaping Fell, who knocked it in off her head and into the top right corner of the goal for the win.

“I just saw the ball coming right at me and I knew I had to get it in no matter what,” Fell said. “We just kept getting really unlucky, but we just kept playing through it and we were just playing our game, not letting them (LaBrae) get to us.”

For Champion (12-3-3), it’s  back in the district title game once again, as they face off with No. 2 Rootstown, who defeated Newton Falls, 2-1, on Monday night.

While Wilson expects his team to make it to the district final every year, losing 12 seniors from last year’s team presented a challenge for the 2016 Flashes. After an 0-2 start, the team has lost just once since then.

“It’s amazing,” Fell said. “It’s always a great feeling to be back here (in the district final). I think our team, even though we are young, we have a lot of talent.”