District championship game or not, the Kenston soccer girls were confident that all they’d need is one goal to capture their program’s first district title during a Division II road collision against Canfield last Thursday.
Yes, the host Lady Cardinals (13-4-2) were the top seed in the bracket and ranked No. 8 in the Ohio Scholastics Soccer Coaches Association state poll, while Kenston (16-3) was the No. 4 seed and garnered no state ranking.
Yes, the Lady Cardinals were averaging 3.3 goals per match and had only been shut out once this season during a 0-0 stalemate against Division I Warren Howland.
And, yes, the Canfield girls soccer program was making its fourth straight trip to the district title game, after locking up titles in 2017 and 2019.
But the Canfield girls hadn’t seen a defense like Kenston’s yet this season.
“We knew the weather wasn’t going to be very good,” Kenston first-year head coach Jonathan Kostoff said. “So, getting that first goal was as important as it always is, and even more so with the weather. And the way we’ve been playing defensively this year, the girls know that, ‘Hey, if we can get a goal, we feel really good about our chances,’ because, defensively, we’ve been that lockdown where we think one goal can win us any game.”
The Lady Bombers entered the match with 12 shutout victories through 18 games, and allowing no more than one goal in five of those six matches that didn’t result in a shutout.
In a four-three-three formation that features junior center back Aidan Myles, sophomore center back Jayme O’Neill and junior holding midfielder Morgan Mintz, not much has fazed the Lady Bombers, especially with senior veteran Natalie Adante in goal – all four of those players earned all-Western Reserve Conference recognition this campaign.
So, when Myles hammered home a header off junior forward Sophia Mighton’s corner kick for a 1-0 tally in the 32nd minute against Canfield, it was go time for the Lady Bombers.
“Aidan (Myles) has had six goals off of corners, all headers, this year,” Kostoff said. “So, literally, all of her goals have been on corners with Sophia finding her head. And when we watched the film, Canfield did a lot of zonal defending; they were sitting in spaces instead of marking players.
“So, we knew, if Aidan can get on the 6 (yard) mark on the back post, Sophia would be able to find her.”
With the Lady Bombers playing in the district championship for the first time, a massive jolt of energy swung their way. After all, they did go in thinking one goal could win them the game.
“That first goal was really important to us, because most of that first half we were a little nervous, and we weren’t playing as ourselves, really,” Kenston junior attacking midfielder Skyler Cornell said. “When we got that goal, it kind of gave us some security, and we realized we could win and started playing more how we usually do in connecting with each other.”
But why settle for a 1-0 result when a 3-0 victory is three times better?
Behind a Cornell-to-Mighton tally in the 71st minute and Cornell’s unassisted goal in the 73rd minute, the Lady Bombers cleaned Canfield’s clock for the 3-0 triumph, securing their spot in the Kenston history book.
“It’s really special to us and to me,” Cornell said. “We knew we had a really good shot this year, and it’s really exciting to see we can do that for the first time in the history of our school.”
Kenston’s defense, backboned by Adante’s four saves, handed the Lady Cardinals just their second shutout this season due in large part to taking away their dangerous set pieces by double-teaming their tallest player, a main target on free kicks and corners, coach Kostoff said.
And the district title game was just the third time Canfield surrendered three or more goals this season, as the Lady Bombers utilized a scouting report with an offensive strategy focused on initiated attacks wide, Kostoff said.
“We really felt that we needed to pull their center backs and their defensive mid out in wide spaces,” the coach said. “We definitely knew that speed was to our advantage up front and on the wings, and that’s kind of where we did our capitalizing.”
In the 71st minute, Cornell fed Mighton a ball that allowed Mighton to work horizontally in space to put home the 2-0 tally that hit off the bottom of the crossbar and skimmed the net from about 15 yards out.
With the Lady Bombers owning possession in the attack throughout the majority of the second half, Cornell said she knew it was a done deal after that goal.
“I had the ball, and I was looking up, and I really didn’t see anything at first, but I heard Sophia calling for it, which she always does a good job of making sure she gets our attention when she needs to,” Cornell said. “And I looked up and saw the space that she had, and I passed it to her, and she shot it.
“When we got the second goal in, we knew that we were good; I knew we were going to win from that point on.”
Two minutes later, Cornell drove the nails in the coffin on that unassisted 3-0 tally for her 18th goal this season.
“The ball got knocked up to me by our defense on the run,” she said. “I beat one of their defenders and brought it in near the front post of the goal and slotted it in. So, I was pretty far inside the box at that point and snuck it in near post.”
Overall, the Lady Bombers put nine shots on target to Canfield’s four.
The Kenston girls advanced to host state No. 17-ranked Revere (14-4-2) on Tuesday night but had their season come to an end in a 2-0 defeat.