ANNA — Anna and Lehman Catholic’s girls soccer matchups may no longer have league implications, but the rivalry hasn’t lost its intensity.
The two squads, which played to a 1-1 tie in a nonconference game on Tuesday, are pleased with their progress early this season and are looking to make runs at conference titles.
“Everybody was nervous,” Anna sixth-year coach Mike Noll said. “Lehman was here almost an hour and a half before the game started. It’s still a big rivalry between us. …The girls’ nerves were strong in the first half. You could see it on both sides; it wasn’t just one side.”
Both had been members of the Western Ohio Soccer League since the conference formed in 2014, but Lehman left as a part of the school joining the newly-reformed Three Rivers Conference in all sports.
The two squads won all of the first seven WOSL titles, with the Cavaliers winning four and the Rockets winning three. Anna had won three straight league titles before Lehman won last year in its final season.
The two have also advanced at least as far as district finals each season since 2017 and are aiming to do so again this year.
Lehman coach Josh Duncan said Tuesday’s matchup is one of several tough nonconference contests he hopes will have the squad ready for tournament play. Another tough nonconference matchup happened Saturday, when Lehman played perennial power Cincinnati Mariemont to a 2-2 tie in Sidney.
“That result (on Saturday) I think helps push us into the rest of our season, and helped set us up for today,” Duncan, a second-year coach, said. “I think that gives us a little bit more belief, especially going into tournament.”
The Cavaliers (2-0-2) racked up 12 goals in their first two games and have scored 15 this season. Sophomore forward Eva Dexter has scored eight goals while junior forward Ella Black has scored four. Black has a team-high four assists and Dexter has three.
Dexter helped give Lehman a lead with 16:39 left in the first half on Tuesday. She sent a corner kick to freshman Callie Giguere in front of the goal, and Giguere headed in the pass to put the Cavaliers ahead 1-0.
Lehman held off Anna’s fast offense — led by last year’s WOSL player of the year Tanner Spangler — for most of the rest of the game.
But the Rockets (2-1-1) started playing at a near-frantic pace late in the second half, and it worked.
Freshman Iris Canan got the ball alone and charged at the goal, and Lehman senior goalkeeper Heidi Toner charged out to meet her. Canan sent a shot right into Toner, but it bounced off and went to Spangler, who was running on the right side.
Spangler sent a soft kick into an unguarded goal to tie it 1-1 with 4:32 left.
The squads both had near-misses in the last two minutes. Lehman had a shot hit off the crossbar with 1:40 left, and Anna had a hard kick stopped by Toner with five seconds left.
“We had them on their heels the last 30 minutes,” Noll said. “We came back and played well. We never quit. I’m proud of the ladies.”
Despite the tie, Anna’s players were in a celebratory mood after the contest, while Lehman’s players looked defeated.
“It definitely felt like (a loss) with that goal coming so late,” Duncan said. “After holding on for the majority of the game, it really stunk. But I told them that timing changes everything there. If they tied us early on, we go home with our heads held high. Since it’s so late, it feels like a loss. But we need to put it into perspective — it was a tie, and that’s still a good result against a good team on a tricky field.
“It’s a mental game for these girls. Anna and Lehman go back and forth. So the mental aspect of staying focused for 80 minutes is huge. That’s crucial. Unfortunately, we didn’t do that today.”
Lehman has 17 players on the roster, and Duncan was concerned about depth heading into the season. He said a physical game like Tuesday’s that included many collisions will help build resiliency as the season progresses.
“We’re still working with some girls and working to get them used to game speed at the high school level,” Duncan said. “We’re only really working with three or four subs. …Right now, we’re just crossing our fingers to not have injuries.”
Spangler, who entered the season with 72 career goals, has scored seven goals this season. She’s one of eight returning starters for the Rockets, which have all but three players back from last season.
“We have some amazing freshmen too, including the goalie (Abby Stroh),” Noll said. “We have some young talent and a couple of starting sophomores, too. It’s a good balance, so we’re not caught year after year.
“The girls play well together. They talk good on the field. They’re good at passing and controlling.”
Tuesday’s game was one of several tough nonconference contests for Anna, which is slated to play the likes of Northmont and Lima Shawnee on the road late in the season.
The Rockets’ lone loss was a 1-0 defeat to Lima Central Catholic on Aug. 28 at Lima Spartan Stadium in temperatures that were measured at 112 degrees on the field.
“It was our first time on turf this year; they’d had all their games on turf,” Noll said. “… That’s big for us. We don’t get to play many games (on turf), and all (tournament) games are played on it.”
Anna is scheduled to travel to Delphos St. John’s for a WOSL game on Thursday while Lehman is scheduled to host Miami East in a TRC game.
The Cavaliers and Rockets won’t meet again — unless they face off in a Division III tournament game.
And with as frequently as the teams make deep postseason runs, it’s a possibility the rivalry may be renewed again in 2021.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.