Rivalry win a boost

Win over Niles helps propel Howland girls to regional

Rivalries bring out the best in teams, and for the Howland Tigers girls soccer team, a recent tournament victory may be just what the doctor ordered.

The Tigers defeated archrival Niles, 2-0, in a Division II district semifinal last week. In 2015, Howland’s dreams of being district champion were dashed by the Red Dragons, 1-0, in the district title game.

However, that Tiger squad featured only one senior and didn’t have the wealth (and depth) of talent that the 2016 team possesses.

“It felt really good,” Tigers coach Joe Megyesi said of the win over Niles, laughing. “It’s getting to be a pretty good rivalry, and it’s really brought out the best in both of us.”

Howland’s 2-0 win was followed by a second-consecutive district title game appearance, this time against Lakeview. The Tigers notched yet another shutout, defeating the Bulldogs, 3-0, and qualifying them for tonight’s Region 5 semifinal, against Hathaway Brown at Twinsburg High School.

Hathaway Brown, which also won a district title a year ago, should provide plenty of challenges to the Tigers, and Megyesi certainly expects a tough matchup.

“I watched them first part of their season. My son and I did some research and watched some of their tapes,” Megyesi said. “I don’t know much about them, but it’s shaping up to be a pretty decent matchup.”

Megyesi, who was a boys soccer coach at John F. Kennedy and Lakeview prior to taking the Howland girls job five years ago, said that his Tigers were a good team in his first three years with the program, but playing a higher level of competition in Division I made it nearly impossible for his team to make a deep postseason run.

In fact, his team lost to Walsh Jesuit in both the 2013 and 2014 tournaments.

“Our biggest problem every time was that we’d win a game or two (in the tournament), but then we were always forced to play Walsh Jesuit,” Megyesi said.

“Here was a team that had won about three or four state titles in a row and we were facing them. They became a real thorn in the side.”

To help prepare this Howland team, Megyesi loaded-up the team’s schedule with Division I opponents top to bottom, as he says that about 11 or 12 of the Tigers’ 16 games this year were against Division I competition.

To manage that tough slate, the Tigers (12-6-1), have switched to a new defensive formation.

“We switched formations this year to give us more flexibility to employ an attacking style,” Megyesi said. “I try to get a real strong defense that keeps the score down, like 0-0.”

While the aforementioned 2015 group featured just one senior, this year’s team has four of them, including Leah Pollifrone, Izzy Albrecht, Napier Ramsey and Sara Morrison. According to Megyesi, Pollifrone is a defender that can attack and can also come back for the ball, making her a flexible player. Albrecht, meanwhile, is an “outstanding player” and a “good leader.”

What impresses Megyesi most about this group is their depth, top to bottom, as sophomores and even freshmen have stepped up to the plate. Combine that with the fact that Howland is in Division II, which Megyesi believes is an advantage in terms of making a deep postseason run, and you have a recipe for success that could last beyond tonight’s game.

“The great thing about this group is that I don’t have any 20 or 30 goal-scoring players,” Megyesi said. “I have about four or five players that give you four, five goals here and there, and that’s exactly how I like it.”