Defended Dragons

Poland blanks Niles, 1-0

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Hannah Johnston of Niles hits the ball on a header during the first half at Poland High School.

POLAND — Defense has been the bread and butter for the Poland Bulldogs girls soccer team so far this fall.

It came up big again Wednesday.

The Bulldogs’ stellar defense guided them to a 1-0 victory over the Niles Red Dragons in the regular-season finale at Poland High School on a second-half goal by Avery Grischow.

Poland (11-0-5) recorded its 14th clean sheet of the season in the win against the Red Dragons, and the Bulldogs only allowed two goals during the entire regular season.

Bulldogs coach Joel Monaco couldn’t be more proud of his team.

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Molly Malmer, left, of Poland takes the ball upfield while Johnston, right, of Niles defends.

“They’re just a special team, they really are,” he said. “Fourteen clean sheets, it’s just an amazing feat to have. They really did a great job this season keeping Gabby (Romano) clean. She did a great job in goal — she’s got strong hands, good vision, she’s a good goalkeeper.”

Romano felt that second-half adjustments made the difference.

“The first half, they (Niles) had a lot of shots on me,” Romano said. “I think we were letting them by, but at halftime we had a talk and we needed to D up and really give intensity, and I really didn’t have any shots to save in the second half.

“We definitely picked up the intensity and we played more aggressive.”

Grischow’s goal came with 27:45 left in the second half.

“I know Teegan (Graff) has a really good shot, so I was just working, trying to get there to be able to finish,” Grischow said. “I think I heard (Monaco) say ‘Get it to Avery,’ so I was making sure I was there.

“Sometimes we do give up after a goal, but I think this time, we really tried to push through and get another one.”

Monaco knows his team is a defensive-minded squad, and he doesn’t shy away from that.

“I think that we pride ourselves in our defense,” Monaco said. “That’s something that we’ve always done, and we’d like to improve our offense, but we do love playing a defensive game, and that’s kind of our staple. That’s who we are.

“We’re not going to fight who we are, but to do what they did this year truly is special. I cannot reiterate it enough. I mean there’s not many teams that do that in any division, having 14 clean sheets. That’s quite an accomplishment.”

Meanwhile, Niles (11-5) coach Scott MacMillan knows that playing on the road against a conference opponent is difficult.

“We played hard in the first half,” he said. “We had a tremendous amount of opportunities, didn’t capitalize and lost.

“We know what we’re coming into, and you know, you’re always down 1-0 when you’re playing on the road, so you’ve got to win every game 2-0, so bottom line, we didn’t do it, didn’t get it done. They’re (Poland) a good team, we play them again next Wednesday, first round of the playoffs.”

MacMillian is excited to see Poland a third time around.

“I’m always looking forward to it,” he said. “We have a lot of film. We’ll be watching a ton of film, and analyze it, and get to that point, when it’s all the marbles. That’s the way it is.”

Poland defeated the Red Dragons by a score of 4-0 earlier in the season, but Monaco wants his team to be on their toes.

“It’s a good win,” he said. “It’s tough to play a team three times. It’s tough to play a team twice, and Niles is a good team. They’re very aggressive, they’re well coached, they’re very good players, they communicate, I can go on and on of how good of a quality team they are.

“To see them a third time, we’re excited to play of course, but we are very cautious because we know how easy it is to let your guard down against a team a third time, so I think we’re just being very humble, and we just want to approach it like it’s the first time we’ve seen them.”


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