ANNA — After heavy graduation losses and several returnees suffering injuries, many Anna underclassmen found themselves on the field earlier than anticipated.
The injured players are returning and joining underclassmen who now have a season’s worth of experience. As such, the Rockets are hoping to advance to a district final for the sixth consecutive year.
A deep postseason run would be the second goal the squad has accomplished this season after it checked off its first goal on Thursday.
Anna beat Botkins 1-0 to capture its fifth Western Ohio Soccer League title in six years. The Rockets (7-8-1, 5-0-0 WOSL) and the Trojans (10-2-3, 4-1-0) entered Thursday’s match tied atop league standings.
“This feels great. We had a rough start to the season because everybody was hurt on our team, but we got through that, and now everybody’s back and healthy,” Anna junior Jenna Wolters said. “We’re playing good now.
“We’ve had to get better at passing and working as a team. Last year, we had a very senior-heavy team, and so all of the sophomores have really stepped up.”
The Rockets struggled through a strong nonconference schedule that included the Three Rivers Conference’s three best teams as well as St. Marys and West Liberty-Salem, which are ranked in Divisions II and III, respectively, in the latest state coaches association polls.
The squad has also played several other D-II teams and will finish regular-season play on Saturday by hosting another in Lima Shawnee (11-2-4), which finished third in the Western Buckeye League.
“Our younger girls have stepped up because of the injuries and made us a solid team,” Anna coach Mike Noll said. “We’ve had the toughest schedule we’ve ever had, so that’s made us a better defensive team.”
The Rockets showed their defensive ability in handing Botkins its first shutout of the season. The Trojans have scored 62 goals this season, an average of over four per game.
With the pressure mounting late, Botkins had several shots in the last 20 minutes, but none got by sophomore goalkeeper Abby Stroh, who had nine saves.
Stroh was aided by Anna’s defenders and midfielders, who largely kept Botkins out of the penalty box.
“With this being for a league title, you could see the nerves come out at the end,” Noll said. “They kept cool enough to win the game, and the goalie made some great saves. She does a great job.”
Anna scored in the first half when Wolters sent a pass through defenders to sophomore Chelsea McEldowney, who sent a shot into the goal.
“I just found an opening, so I just kicked it, and Chles was there and scored a great goal,” Wolters said.
Anna still isn’t completely healthy — the squad was without three starters on Thursday, including leading scorer Taylor Poeppelman, who left with an injury early in the game. Poeppelman was named first-team all-WOSL on Friday, as were Stroh and senior Abbie McEldowney. Wolters, Chelsea McEldowney and Victoria Heitkamp were named second team.
But the squad is expected to have most of its players back as tournament play starts next week.
“We’re looking good for a tournament run,” Noll said. “We’ve got everybody back but two girls, and one will be back next week. As long as we keep everybody healthy, we should be in good shape.”
The Rockets will open postseason play on Oct. 22 against Yellow Springs (7-7). If victorious, they’ll advance to a district semifinal on Oct. 25 against either Botkins, Preble Shawnee (13-2-1) or Dayton Christian (8-7-1).
“I think we’re ready,” Wolters said. “I think we’re closer as a team. We’ve really worked on our passing and talking to each other.”
Botkins’ Paul named WOSL player of the year
Botkins junior forward Camdyn Paul was named WOSL player of the year on Friday, while second-year coach Padraig Murphy was named coach of the year.
Paul has scored 24 goals this season and has 12 assists.
Joining Paul on first team all-WOSL senior are senior defender Kennedi Doseck, freshman goalkeeper Delaney Manger and freshman forward/midfielder Addison Blindauer. Sophomore Delana Pitts and freshman Aliyah Monnin were named second team.
Blindauer has scored 12 goals and has a team-high 13 assists. Manger has made 60 saves.
Thursday was the final WOSL game of the season for Botkins. The squad will open postseason play by hosting either Western Ohio Soccer League champion Preble Shawnee or Dayton Christian (which finished second in the Metro Buckeye Conference) in a sectional final on Oct. 22.
If victorious, Botkins play in a district semifinal on Oct. 25 in Bellefontaine, likely against Anna.
Sidney MVL Valley Division champs, 2nd in overall standings
Sidney finished Miami Valley League play by beating Greenville 10-1 on Wednesday.
Sophomore forward Larkyn Vordemark scored three goals and had one assist in the victory; she has scored an MVL-high 22 goals and ranks third among league players with 12 assists. Kimora Johnson has 13 assists and Katie McKinney and Kyleigh Spade each have 10 assists.
The Yellow Jackets (10-4-2, 8-1-0) secured the Miami Valley League Valley Division championship in late September and finished second in overall league standings.
The Yellow Jackets are scheduled to travel to New Carlisle Tecumseh on Saturday to wrap up regular-season play. They will open postseason play this Tuesday by hosting Bellbrook (6-8-2).
Lehman Catholic wins Three Rivers Conference
The Cavaliers secured the TRC title by tying Tipp City Bethel 1-1 on Tuesday.
Lehman (9-5-2, 6-1-1) finishes ahead of Miami East (13-3-0, 6-2-0) and Bethel (12-4-1, 5-2-1). The Cavaliers lost their first matchup with Miami East 4-1 but won the second 2-1 on Sept. 29. Bethel lost its first meeting with Miami East 2-0 but won its second 2-1 on Oct. 6; the squad would have tied Lehman for the title with a victory on Tuesday.
Lehman Catholic junior forward Eva Dexter scored a TRC-high 18 goals in regular season.
Lehman could soon play both Bethel and Miami East for a third time.
The Cavaliers will open postseason play on Oct. 22 against either Bethel or Twin Valley South (7-5-5). If victorious, Lehman will advance to a district semifinal on Oct. 25 at Newton High School, likely against Miami East.
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.