Howland girls blank Lakeview, 3-0, for district title
NILES — It took Howland a little bit of agony to realize the glory of a district title.
The Tigers lost in heartbreaking fashion in last year’s Division II district championship. They removed any chance of a similar fate in the second half Thursday.
Howland scored three goals in the second half to topple Lakeview 3-0 in a Division II district championship at Niles’ Bo Rein Stadium. The Tigers (12-6-1) play Hathaway Brown in a regional semfinal at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Twinsburg High School.
“This is the best feeling ever,” said Sara Ciletti, who scored the first of the three goals. “I’ve never experienced anything like it.”
No one in the Howland soccer program has since 2012 (the last time the Tigers were crowned district champs). Howland lost to Niles in last year’s district final, 1-0. That loss motivated the Tigers back to this point.
Early on it was hard to tell if their fortunes would change.
While Howland controlled possession, Lakeview (13-4-1) created several counter attacks, and the teams went into halftime tied at 0 and with four shots on goal each. Both had a near miss, as Howland had a goal erased for offsides and Lakeview saw a shot ricochet off the far post.
Things changed in a span of 18 minutes in the second half.
“I don’t know if there was a difference in the two halves, but there was 20 minutes in the first half and 20 minutes in the second half where we just did not match Howland’s intensity,” Lakeview coach Shawn Varley said. “We didn’t capitalize on the opportunities we did have, and we made some mental mistakes.”
The Tigers’ first goal came at the 38:23 mark of the second half. Howland passed the ball to about 15 yards in front of the Lakeview goal, and after it rattled around between a few players trying to clear it, Ciletti corraled the ball and slipped it past Bulldogs goalkeeper Miranda Meffe.
The second goal came after one of the mental mistakes Varley noted. With Howland in a similar position in front of Lakeview’s net, Meffe raced out to secure the ball, but with several players in the vicinity, she missed and fell down. The Tigers’ Isabella Merlo then lightly tapped in a goal for a 2-0 lead at the 26:37 mark.
“Bella’s goal really relieved all of the pressure on us,” Ciletti said, “and once (Napier Ramsey) scored, things just kept on rolling.”
Ramsey’s goal sealed the deal. The senior was on a breakaway and dribbled past two Lakeview defenders before slicing a shot across the field, just inside the far post and away from a diving Meffe. The goal, which came at 21:40 mark, continued to ignite a raucous Howland crowd that cheered loudly throughout a cold and blustery night.
“It took four years to get to this point, and it feels amazing,” said Ramsey, one of several seniors who said a district title has been their goal since they started as freshmen. “I could never ask for a better team. I love them so much, and this means the world to me.”
Howland, which fell, 3-0, to the Bulldogs in the regular season, outscored its last two opponents 5-0 and has won seven in a row. The Tigers’ last loss was to Lakeview on Oct. 1. Howland coach Joe Megyesi said the Tigers are playing their best soccer of the season at the perfect time.
“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to the girls,” he said. “They wanted it, and that’s what it’s all about. We had the talent all the time, and we had a tough schedule this year, so our record is not indicative of how we played.
“These girls deserve it. It’s something that they’re going to go away with and something we can build on going forward.”
While a district title was the goal, Megyesi and the Tigers aren’t ready to stop just yet.
“We’ll match up well with them,” said Megyesi of Hathaway Brown, which he saw play against Canfield earlier in the season. “We had a couple losses, but the last four or five games we won pretty good, and each game we’re getting better and better. The girls are really feeling like they can do it.