Harrison girls’ most successful season ends in New Philadelphia

KICKING — Harrison Central’s Laken Ward kicks the ball down field during a Division III, Region 11 district semifinal against Hiland on Wednesday. (Photo by Andrew Grimm)

NEW PHILADELPHIA — The Harrison Central girls soccer team struggled to get anything going offensively in Wednesday’s Division III, Region 11 East semifinal match with No. 5 seed Hiland and saw the most successful season in the program’s short five-year history come to an end with a 3-0 loss at Woody Hayes Quaker Stadium.

“We knew it was going to be tough,” Harrison Central coach Scott Ward said. “We played Hiland last year and they were tough. We just couldn’t get anything rolling. That’s how it goes, some days the ball bounces your way and some days it doesn’t. They took away the space, and we just didn’t counter it.”

By finishing with an 8-8-1 record, the No. 3 seed Huskies had the first season with a .500 record in school history.

“As a fifth-year program, to go 8-8-1 is exciting,” Ward said. “We are headed in the right direction and building a culture.”

Hiland (5-12-1) attempted 23 shots in the game, putting 18 of them on goal, while Harrison Central attempted 12 and put just five on target.

“I am as happy with the fact that we played really well as I am that we won 3-0,” Hiland coach Jeremy Kauffman said. “In the tournament, you like to win because it means you get another game. Frankly, that is probably about as well as we’ve played in a long time in the back.”

The Hawks controlled possession throughout and got rewarded for it in the 26th minute when junior Alexis Raber got behind the Harrison Central defense and ripped a shot past Huskies freshman goalkeeper Britton Positano (12 saves).

Positano made a pair of big saves in the final minute of the opening half to keep it at a 1-0 deficit at the break, but Hiland would get an important insurance goal in the fourth minute of the second half when sophomore Mia Gertz floated a long shot over top of Positano and under the crossbar to make it 2-0.

The Huskies had a pair of golden opportunities to get back within one toward the middle of the second half. First, leading scorer junior Sydney Star had a good chance, but Hawks senior goalkeeper Patricia Raber (five saves) was able to deny it. Junior Gemma Downs then was racing past the defense with speed but put her attempt high and wide of the goal.

Positano was injured in a collision while making a save with 11:57 remaining in the game, and senior Laken Ward moved to the net for the rest of the game. Ward made three saves, but the first shot she faced less than a minute after taking over eluded her as Hiland junior Shana Miller connected from 20 yards out for a 3-0 lead, all but wrapping up the Hawks victory despite Harrison Central continuing to bring pressure.

“That’s only her second match ever that she’s been in the goal,” coach Ward said. “Our kids never quit; they played hard right up to the last minute. That’s a culture we’ve started at Harrison Central.”

It is the second time on its run that Hiland has pulled an upset as a lower seed. It upset No. 2 seed Edison in the sectional final last week.

The Hawks will face No. 1 seed Bishop Rosecrans, who defeated No. 7 Catholic Central 14-3 in St. Clairsville Wednesday night, for the district title on Saturday.

“I told our girls all year long that I thought we played the toughest schedule, other than Rosecrans, in our district,” Kauffman said. “I told them that we were going to get better along the way, and all that matters is who is playing the best at the end of the season.”

The Huskies had six seniors (Juliana Rose, Ward, Taylor Easlik, Taryn Graham, Mikaela Tobin and Reanna Brookes) wrap up their high school careers with the loss.

“They’re a very good group of seniors,” coach Ward said. “I’ve got two four-year seniors in Juliana Rose and Laken Ward that were a part of the very first win in school history. They’ve been a part of every win in school history.”

As tough as they will be to replace, coach Ward is optimistic about the team he will return next season.

“We have some key personnel coming back,” he said. “We’ll build around them and get it going again.”