GRANGER TWP. — Highland’s girls soccer team made a strong statement in its regular-season finale Wednesday night.
Sophomore goalkeeper Madison Less made seven saves — three of them highlight-film quality — as the Hornets battled Suburban League champion Copley to a 0-0 tie.
The Indians (9-5-2, 6-0-1) had clinched the conference crown coming into the evening, but saw their quest for a perfect SL season end at chilly Highland Stadium.
“Honestly, this feels like a win because we played so well against a really good team in Copley,” Less said. “Everyone was upbeat and played with a lot of confidence and energy tonight. We feel really good about our chances going into the tournament.”
As well the Hornets (10-3-3, 4-1-2) should. They became the first SL team to hold Copley without a goal this season thanks to superb work by Less and strong defense by juniors Maggie Mae Everett, Jillian Savage and Samantha Sube and sophomore Lauren Tecco.
The aforementioned defenders marked Copley forwards (and leading scorers) Anna Haverchak and Celine Olorunto so tightly in the first half, they forced them into taking long, low-percentage shots after intermission.
“We buckled down as a defense and played with so much heart tonight,” Everett said. “It wasn’t just the defenders, either. Every single girl came out and played phenomenal against great competition.
“We’re going into the postseason with so much momentum and we’ve got such great coaches. I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished together.”
The Indians had the game’s two best scoring chances, both coming midway through the second half.
Olorunto fired a rocket from just outside the left side of the box, forcing Less to dive to her left to deflect the ball away from the goal. The ultra-athletic keeper then bounced off the grass and grabbed the rebound before Copley could put it into the open net.
Three minutes later, Less stoned Indians forward Bailey Noonan on a point-blank opportunity, earning her a loud ovation from the home fans.
“Madison made a couple of tremendous saves that most keepers wouldn’t have stopped tonight,” said Highland coach Gina Fox, whose squad is 1-0-1 in its last two games against Copley. “She and our back four were outstanding stopping every chance they had, especially since we didn’t pack it in at any point.”
Though the Hornets only forced Copley goalie Beth Moore to make one save — on a shot by junior forward Elle Cain early in the second half — they made a number of strong rushes.
Cain and senior forward AnnaRose Wiencek each fired just wide of the net, while McKenzie Koch, Amanda Schniegenberg, Kaitlyn Lafayette, Bailey Sauer and Mari Ley were active around the goal.
Senior midfielder Koch had a breakaway with 5:05 remaining before she was tripped from behind in the box, but no foul was called.
“Copley has a great program and they won the league, but I give credit to our girls for playing fearlessly against them,” Fox said. “They showed tremendous character and leadership all season, and that carried through the whole way.”
Those same qualities also could lead Highland to an extended run in the postseason tournament, which begins next week.
“We believe in each other, but we know we’re representing something so much bigger than just the number on our backs,” Everett said. “We’re playing for our coaches, our families and our school. Every girl has such a big heart and so much integrity, I’m grateful to be part of such a strong team.”
It was youth soccer night for the Hornets. All players in attendance were introduced to the crowd at halftime.
• Highland won the junior varsity game 1-0 on a goal by Rebecca Smith.
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.