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Ward embraces challenge, lifts Oak Glen to sectional title over Weir High

The Oak Glen girls soccer team celebrates winning the Class AA/A Region 1 Section 1 title Saturday over Weir High. -Joe Catullo

NEW MANCHESTER — Prior to Saturday’s Class AA/A Region 1 Section 1 championship, Oak Glen head coach Ryan Wells preached to his girls soccer team about emotion.

Weir High has been playing with that and heavy hearts for the past month since sophomore Madison Crowe lost her life. The Red Riders are not the only ones, however. Oak Glen freshman Kami Ward got the message and embraced it.

With Weir High making sure Reece Enochs finished scoreless, Ward stepped up and scored two second-half goals to lift the Golden Bears to a 2-1 victory and their fourth consecutive sectional title.

“(Crowe) was my former teammate on travel ball for a couple of years,” said Ward, who had a hat trick in the semifinal on Thursday. “She got me through this game. Maybe we don’t get it done because she was a top defender.

“Those goals were for her. She made me a better player, and I couldn’t get this far without her.”

Ward’s first score was unassisted and tied the contest at the 18:53 mark. She got free after a misplay by Weir High (7-7-3) and drilled the shot in the bottom right corner.

Her game-winning kick with 11:51 left came after a nice feed by Brooklyn Watts, who extended her West Virginia single-season assists record to 36 overall.

“Kami sharing time up top with Reece was like Reece sharing time up top with Maggie Kovalcik,” Wells said. “She just has to wait for her time to come, but she’s going to score 80-plus goals in her career. Kami’s played at a high level for a very long time. Even though she’s only a freshman, this stage doesn’t bother her, and it showed. It speaks volumes for such a young kid.”

Oak Glen (17-2-1) had 13 shots on goal in the game, and credit belongs to Weir High senior goalkeeper Alexis Adams, who finished with 13 saves. One of those included a diving stop with 10:30 remaining in the first half when Ward broke free for an open look.

“Against any other goalkeeper, this is a four- or five-goal game for us. She’s just so tough and one of the best goalies around,” Wells said. “You just have to beat her in different ways.”

A little less than three minutes after that save, the Red Riders capitalized on one of very few opportunities (they only had four shots on goal overall). Senior Isabella Aperfine drilled a shot past goalkeeper Alexus Greenlief (four saves) for a 1-0 lead.

Even with that advantage at halftime, the Golden Bears came storming out of the locker room in high spirits.

“They were ticked off at themselves. It brought me back to last year’s regional championship game against North Marion,” Wells said. “I told them the exact same thing I told them (Saturday), and that’s, ‘You’re going to win the game. The ball’s going to go in the net. You’ve dominated the game. We basically gave up one shot. When you possess the ball 80 percent of the time and keep ripping shots, it’s eventually going to fall.'”

The clock simply could not move fast enough for Weir High, as it began tiring out when working as hard as it could to hang on to a slim advantage.

“The effort from our girls was exemplary. That’s what we’ve asked from them all year,” Weir High head coach Jeremy Angelo said. “We’ve told them all year there is no difference between you and this team (Oak Glen). They just finish. They scored twice, and we scored once. I’m proud of my girls.

“We moved a couple of people around and prepared for their pace and aggressiveness. We made it very difficult for them. We don’t really pack it in. We spread it out and mainly press, and then they have to play quick and try to get out of it. That’s why they didn’t have many opportunities. We played smart and kept them in front, but they just kept coming and coming.”

The up-and-down roller coaster season that the Red Riders endured made its final stop on Saturday. They did all they could against a top-seeded rival that has state title admirations. Nobody was disappointed when they boarded the bus back home.

“It’s not fair, to be honest, about what we’ve had to endure with from off-the-field issues to COVID to referees. It’s ridiculous,” Angelo said. “But, these girls wanted to play, wanted to work, wanted to do something, wanted to become a team, and they did. Above and beyond, whatever they’ve been dealt with, they’ve handled it and done very well. You’re proud of them as people, players and students.”

Along with Aperfine and Adams, Saturday was the final game for Weir High’s Kayla Baselj, Danielle Hvizdak, Vanesa Licata, Kathy McCormick, Haylee Popish, Alyson Ringer and Kristen Skinner.

UP NEXT

Oak Glen travels to Fairmont for the regional tournament on Thursday against Fairmont Senior. The tentative start time is 5 p.m.

“I think last year was the only time a (tournament) game with Weir was by more than one goal,” Wells said. “This is what we fully expected. It’s not surprising, and it’s good for us. It was good competition, and it doesn’t matter what type of sport it is when two rivals face off.”

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