SIDNEY — A good portion of Anna’s strong junior class has played together since they were eight-year-olds. They got the attention of many area spectators while on youth and club teams and have made Anna a name in Southwest Ohio small-school soccer.
But despite beating Lehman Catholic in Western Ohio Soccer League play last year, the Rockets have been outside of Ohio Scholastic Soccer Coaches Association polls so far this season. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, have been ranked in the top three in each poll.
If anyone else around the state wasn’t aware of Anna, they should be after Thursday night.
Taylor Noll scored a goal for the Rockets with 11:32 left in the second half of a WOSL matchup at Lehman to lift the team to a 1-0 win.
“I believe after this game, the state will recognize us,” Anna coach Mike Noll said. “We’re here — just like we were last year. We are here.”
The victory puts Anna (6-0-1) in the driver’s seat in the league race with a 4-0 record. Lehman (4-1) falls to 2-1 and will have to win out and hope Anna trips up in order to tie. The Rockets have two league games left: Botkins (3-3-1, 1-1 WOSL) and Coldwater (1-3-2, 1-2).
“They’re a really good team,” Lehman Catholic coach Jeremy Lorenzo said of Anna. “We play each other 10 times, they win five and we win five. That’s the sport. We’re going to get better from this game. This is our fifth game of the season, and we’re just going to continue to improve.”
Lehman missed several shots on goal in the first half, while Anna had most of the shots in the second half.
“We controlled the ball better in the first half with our feet,” Noll said. “We controlled, (Lehman) was kicking. With that control, once I saw that, I knew we were going to hold them. You could see coming down the field, it wasn’t a kick-and-run. It was a development that we built out of the backfield. We didn’t just pass — we built it down one side.”
There were a few close misses for Anna in the second half — including one from Taylor Kauffmann with about 15 minutes left that hit off the top crossbar while Lehman goalie Hannah Giguere was out of the box.
The Rockets were able to work up a scoring play with Taylor Noll a few minutes later.
After Anna moved up along the sideline, sophomore Megan Dieckmann sent a pass to Noll in front of Lehman’s goal. Noll sent a kick that grazed the hands of a diving Giguere and went in to put the Rockets up.
“Our team, being all returning starters, has very developed foot skills,” Mike Noll said. “When we come down the field, that’s what we expect. That’s how we designed that play.
“… We have excellent ball control. I believe we had better ball control this evening than they did. We came out with a lot of confidence this evening. We’ve had a good season up to now and have played some serious tough teams, big D-I teams, which has helped us develop and helped us get ready for this. (Our girls) were up for it.”
Taylor Noll and Kauffmann (both juniors) have scored most of Anna’s goals this season, but Mike Noll said strikers Amber Stewart and Tanner Spangler have helped the offense. Spangler is a freshman, and Noll said he expects she will score more as the season progresses. Thursday’s game was only Spangler’s second in regular season after sustaining an injury in preseason.
“We have four really developed strikers,” Noll said. “The two Taylors are two of them that have been playing since they were eight years old. They know each other.”
Lehman outshot Anna 12-6 and had seven shots in the first half.
“They weren’t exactly real clean shots,” Lorenzo said. “Their defense is probably one of the best back lines out there. They gave us nothing easy. We continued to dig and try. Their goal happened because of the way the ball came in. Sometimes it’s not pretty, but it’s a goal.”
Juniors Michaela Ambos, Adriana Ashford, Claire Bensman and Brooke Hemsworth make up Anna’s back line.
“Our back line is amazing,” Noll said. “Three of the girls have played together since they were eight years old. …They are the rock of the team. They’re solid.”
Anna has allowed just two goals this season, including one in a nonconference match on Sept. 4 at Northmont, which ended in a 1-1 tie. Junior goalkeeper Savanna Hostetler had 12 saves on Thursday.
“I’m very blessed to have Savanna as a goalie,” Noll said. “She always puts her heart in and always give 100 percent. There’s no 50 percent with her.”
It’s the second consecutive regular-season win over Lehman for Anna, which won the WOSL last year. The Cavaliers beat Anna in a Division III district final.
Lorenzo said he thinks the rivalry that’s developed between Anna and Lehman in recent years is good for both programs.
“Two state-ranked girls teams just down the road from each other, it’s great,” Lorenzo said. “A large crowd here. Great for girls soccer. Even though we lost, we’re excited for our season. I’m excited to be a part of this. …They beat us fair and square. There’s nothing you can be upset about.”