The Tigers advanced to play Poland in Saturday's district final.
By DOUG CHAPIN
HOWLAND -- Things were going well for head coach Fawzi Mujahed and the Boardman High girls soccer team through 105 minutes of play Tuesday night in a Division I district semifinal against top-seeded Howland.
With freshman goal keeper Cheyenne Khatib making a dozen saves -- including at least four which could be labeled spectacular -- the Spartans, helped by a sloppy field, held the Tigers to a 0-0 deadlock through 80 minutes of regulation time, 15 minutes of the first overtime and about 10 minutes of the second extra session. It looked as if the game would be decided by penalty kicks.
Then senior defender Candace Golubic left the game with an injury. Shortly thereafter, Howland senior forward Kaylin Hovance flicked the ball forward to the edge of the penalty area. Fellow senior Melissa Kohn ran down the ball, settled it, and got off yet another shot against Khatib. This shot, however, found its way under Khatib's diving attempt and into the net with 2:28 remaining in the second overtime.
Howland (14-2-3) advanced to the district championship game for the fourth time in the last five years. The Tigers will play Saturday against second-seeded Poland, a 4-0 winner over Green in the other semifinal.
"Howland is a very good team and played very well. My team is young and they did an excellent job, especially our freshman keeper," Mujahed said. "When we lost our defender [Golubic] that changed everything for our defense. She has the speed that I think she would have been able to get to the ball and prevent their goal-scoring opportunity."
Kohn said she could tell shortly after taking the shot that it would get past Khatib.
"When I saw her dive for the ball I knew it was under her," Kohn said. "Kaylin flicked a good ball out to me and I was just hoping to get off a good enough shot."
Avoiding a tie
Through overtime, the Tigers focused on avoiding a tie which would lead to deciding the game on penalty kicks.
"Our main focus was to not let the game get to penalty kicks," Kohn said. "We knew Alexa [Williams] could do the job, but we didn't want to let it get to that."
Williams, normally a defender, was playing in goal for the second straight tournament game because regular keeper Meagan McLaughlin is out with an illness. With an outstanding keeper in the nets for Boardman and an inexperienced netminder for the Tigers, it's no wonder Mujahed was hoping to get to penalty kicks.
"From the start of the game we told the girls our plan was to play tough defense and hold them," the Spartans coach said. "If we had a chance for a goal we would take it, but we were confident we could win on penalty kicks. We have five girls who have shown they can finish in practice and with our goalie, we knew we could win."
Though the Spartans (11-6-2) were outshot 25-2, they showed plenty of grit in staying in the game. The match continued a run of solid defensive play since the tournament began. Boardman blanked Marlington 4-0 and Louisville 3-0 to reach the district semis.
"Throughout the tournament we have played well and played hard. The girls gave a lot of effort and our seniors did an excellent job," Mujahed said.
Howland coach Pat Hovance hopes his squad can end a string of disappointment in district championship games. The Tigers lost to Green in the final the last two years and fell to Poland in 2002. Howland last made it to the regional in the 2000 season.
"We have worked from day one for this next game," he said about what will be Howland's third meeting against Poland in the high school season. The teams also played twice in summer tournaments.
"You have to give Boardman credit, they stepped up and their goalie was outstanding. And on this field, you can't play soccer, it was just a mess," Hovance said. "From where I was it looked like about 10 of our shots were going in. You just can't say enough about their keeper. We got a little impatient at times, but the girls kept battling. They kept winning balls."
Hovance said Howland officials are looking into the possibility of playing the district final at a site with an artificial surface. He also said McLaughlin, who set a school record for shutouts this season, could be back.
"Alexa has been taking one for the team," Hovance said. "It's possible we'll have Meagan, but we will be ready to go Saturday with Alexa."