By Doug Chapin
Two weeks ago the Poland High girls soccer team ended an eight-year streak of frustration against Howland High, beating the Tigers 1-0 to claim the All-American Conference Red Division championship.
On Wednesday night, Howland gained revenge, posting a 3-1 victory over the Bulldogs in a Division I district semifinal contest. The second-seeded Tigers (14-4-1) face top-seeded Fitch High in the district championship game on Saturday night.
“We watched the DVD with the girls again and we just saw that we did a lot of good things, we just didn’t put the ball on the frame,” Howland coach Pat Hovance said about the earlier loss to Poland. The teams also played to a 3-3 tie in September.
“This game is about getting the ball on the frame and making the goal keeper work,” he continued. “Our girls did a fantastic job tonight up there, getting physical and putting the ball on the frame. It’s nice to see the ball go in the net.”
Poland took a 1-0 lead on a header by Erin Gabriel off a corner kick by Tatum Marucci with 18:49 on the first-half clock. The Bulldogs (13-4-2) continued to dominate play, holding a 9-0 edge in shots when Howland was awarded a free kick about 40 yards out and with just less than eight minutes remaining in the half.
Erika Nites drilled a laser shot that curved away from screened goal keeper Abbie Frank and skipped into the lower left corner of the net to tie the game with 7:36 on the clock.
From that point, Howland held a 14-2 edge in shots. The Tigers took the lead with 45 seconds left in the half when Olivia Nicholas battled for possession on the right side and crossed to a wide-open Heather Seagraves 15 yards out in front of the goal.
“That free kick that went all the way through, we can’t have that happen,” Poland coach John Cavalier said. “Two of the goals they had I feel were major mistakes on our part, they never should have gone in.
“The third one was a good goal. But shooting the ball from 40 yards out, especially with it bouncing on the ground, you can’t let that go through six people. It can’t happen.”
Hovance said he liked the way his team came back from a deficit.
“I was very proud of the girls when we went down 1-0 and, coming off a loss to them [Poland], it’s real easy to get your head down. But they responded very well, we had the better of it the rest of the first half and then we just pounded that frame in the second half. We lucked out a couple times, I don’t know how that one ball didn’t go into the goal [for Poland].”
He referred to a shot by Kelsey Malencic who came open off a feed from Marucci but hit the post with her shot with just less than 21 minutes remaining. In the ensuing scramble, Poland got off another shot which was blocked on the goal line by defender Gina Wall.
“When it was 2-1 we hit one off the post, we were right there, it’s 2-2,” Cavalier said. “We were wide open in front of the net and we just don’t put it away. But you know what, those things happen.”