Even when the Chagrin Falls girls soccer team went to the Division II state championship game in 2016, the Lady Tigers got scored on – once – in their first five games.
Graduating four starters, including three defenders, from last season’s 10-4-4 campaign that included nine shutouts, the Chagrin Falls girls were perhaps supposed to go through some growing pains to open their 2019 season.
But after five games, the Lady Tigers have outscored their opponents, 17-0, with victories against Madison, 4-0, Aurora, 4-0, Berkshire, 1-0, Geneva, 7-0, and, most recently, a 1-0 result against Chagrin Valley Conference foe Hawken last Thursday.
“Let me find some wood to knock on right now,” Chagrin Falls 28th-year head coach Pam Malone said. “I think our defensive back line is just doing awesome, anchored with Katie Schumacher as one of our center backs.”
A four-year starter, Schumacher was a key piece to the Lady Tigers’ 22-2 state runner-up finish in 2016, a season that included a program-record 17 shutouts. She is now committed to play at Western Michigan.
“She’s really brought a great game,” Malone said. “And the other three girls in the back are playing off of her, just her intensity and her focus and drive. They’ve got a great camaraderie in the back, playing for each other.”
Although Schumacher is an anchor on defense, she doesn’t sit around on the ocean bottom waiting for the current to come her way. Through five games, Schumacher is also the Lady Tigers’ leading goal scorer with four tallies.
While most coaches ask their outside backs to push up and make runs while their center backs stay home to hold down the fort, Schumacher has free range on the pitch.
“She just gets a look in her eyes, and we know she’s going. She’s just going,” Malone said. “She’s sees an opening, like, she’ll play real smart in the back, and then she reads the game – what the midfielders are doing, what the forwards aren’t doing on the other team – sees an opening and will just go for it. It’s fun to watch.”
Getting the nod at the other center back spot this season is junior Jaime Dustin, who stepped in as a starter last year when Schumacher was injured, while senior Molly Barr and junior Marley Graham took over starting spots at outside backs. Barr was an outside midfielder last year.
While junior goalie Aerin Krebs is a third-year starter for the Lady Tigers, she’s only had to make eight saves through five games as a vocal keeper who helps keep her back line in formation, Malone said.
“We knew coming into the season that Jaime was going to fit right in and we weren’t going to miss a beat with our two center backs,” Malone said. “And confidence is huge in the back. I mean, I knew from watching them play in the summer and our scrimmages against Mayfield, Solon and Avon – we only gave up one goal to Solon.
“So, I thought these guys are going to be pretty strong. It isn’t a surprise, but it’s pleasant. I never thought they would have five clean sheets right now. So, even though we graduated three, I don’t think we’ve really missed a beat on defense.”
Malone also gave credit to her assistant, Dan Passalacqua, whom she said is a defensive genius.
While the Lady Tigers have three lopsided victories, the pair of 1-0 nail-biters against Berkshire (2-4-2) and Hawken (1-5) didn’t have to be so close.
“I think we’ve been frustrated in our nail-biters, because we felt we could have done more,” Malone said. “We didn’t play up to our expectations. So, that’s something that it’s more of a matter that we need to bring our best game every game, regardless of the competition.
“But we’re not trying to get hung up on, ‘Oh my, gosh. We’re doing really well,’ because we’re only as good as our last game, and we’re a little regretful as to how we played against Hawken. Even though it was a victory, we needed to take some lessons from it.”
Finishing off opportunities and having the mindset that any and every touch can change the outcome were a couple of the takeaways, Malone said. The underdog always has a chance to win in the game of soccer, she said.
After a nil-nil first half, sophomore center midfielder Peyton Gellin found the back of the net in the 52nd minute, when she chipped Hawken’s keeper off on a slotted pass from freshman center midfielder Kate Bartlett for the eventual 1-0 result.
“We definitely missed some opportunities, and that was probably because we were thinking, ‘Oh, this isn’t going to be a tough game,’” Malone said. “But we tell our players that any team can beat you until you prove otherwise.”
A returning starter at center mid, Gellin, who led the Lady Tigers with 11 goals and two assists as a freshman, had moved up to forward when she scored her goal against Hawken. It was her third tally of the season.
Starting outside midfielders are senior Molly Nachtwey and sophomore Sarah Burgess, who is the Lady Tigers’ lead point getter so far with three goals and four assists, while senior Bella Dalessandro and freshman Elana McGinnis, who has two goals and an assist, start up top. And senior Creagan Mee is a top producer with three assists.
“Sarah Burgess is real creative off the ball and will set people up, and she knows when to hold it and when to give it away,” Malone said of her sophomore, who tallied nine goals and four assists last year. “So, she’s shifty, has good agility on the ball, probably our best ball-handler, and is racking up some points with that finesse.”
The Lady Tigers’ other game-winner, during a 1-0 road battle against Berkshire on Aug. 28, came off the foot of Bartlett on a set piece, with Gellin taking a free kick that deflected off the Lady Badgers’ goalie before her center midfielder counterpart buried the rebound.
“She’s getting better and better, especially as she understands the high school game and how to work with (Gellin),” Malone said of Bartlett. “And our other freshman, Elana McGinnis, has crazy, crazy, speed with a couple of goals. As soon as we get her to be a little more patient up top, she’s going to start finding the back of the net more often.”
Up next, Chagrin Falls will host CVC foe West Geauga (7-0) in a battle of unbeatens at 7 p.m. Thursday at C.S. Harris Stadium.