By Luke Severt
For the Troy Daily News
TROY — Per tradition, before each Troy Christian home sporting event, the PA announcer says a prayer over the loudspeaker prior to the commencement of the event.
On Saturday night, as usual, they asked for a safe, match, and expressed their gratitude for their blessings, before a rather unique request was made.
“Lord, please give us some better weather.”
It was the perfect storm for misery: a brisk 39 degrees, with blistering 24 mile-per-hour winds and rain to go with it. However, the fifth-seeded Troy Christian girls soccer team was able to brave the conditions and secure a win in the Division III sectional semifinal against Botkins, the 13-seed, by a final score of 2-0.
“For sure,” Eagles head coach Brian Peters said when asked if he saw toughness in his girls on Saturday. “We only play 12, 13 girls. But really, coaching and them taking coaching cues of first half versus second half, I thought our possession was much stronger, shorter passes, and building the attacks. But yeah, I mean this weather was horrible.”
He added another “horrible” for emphasis as he shook his head and smiled.
It didn’t take long for the Eagles to jump out to a lead. The Metro Buckeye Conference champions immediately put pressure on the Botkins defense and were able to break through and score rather quickly. Less than five minutes into the match, sophomore midfielder Maya Dilbone sent a cross from the far sideline to senior captain Rachel Plummer, who used a nice touch to redirect it into the back of the net, and the Eagles led 1-0 with 35:03 left to play in the first half.
“For us, scoring first and early is huge,” Peters said. “We have two freshmen and two sophomores in the back line. Very young, but they’re pretty darn good soccer players. I feel like from a defense standpoint we can hold them if we get that quick goal.”
Like Peters expects, the Troy Christian defense was able to escape unscathed, although they were hardly challenged in the first half. The Eagles essentially dominated Botkins, maintaining possession of the ball for nearly all of the half, something Peters said they have practiced often.
With 11 minutes left in the first half, the Eagles proved just how quickly their attack could be executed. Sophomore Erin Schenk controlled the ball near midfield when she sent a beautiful pass upfield to junior Lexi Salazar—the team’s leading scorer—who fought off two defenders and sent it over the keeper’s head and into the goal.
That’s where the scoring ended, but the intensity was far from over. In a win-or-go-home situation, the physicality of the match is bound to skyrocket, and it did on Saturday, as there were a number of tackles, battles for the ball, and penalties. Peters, however, doesn’t shy away from this style of play, and instead embraces it.
“It’s one of those misconceptions, that we play at a Christian school so we’re going to be a doormat, but we play,” he said. “We’re a physical team. We try not to be dirty, obviously, but it’s part of the game. The girls like it, and we train them in a way to play so it can be physical and not dirty.”
Next, the Eagles will travel to Eaton High School to play sixth-seeded Preble Shawnee in the sectional championship on Tuesday, a team they have not defeated since 2014. The two teams matched up on Sept. 27 this fall, and the Arrows handed the Eagles their only loss of the season, 2-0.
“They’re tough, physical, and well-coached. It’ll be a good match,” Peters said. “Preble Shawnee is twice as physical as we are. We’ll watch film to prepare, just like any other night, but they’re just physical. That’s the biggest thing. We need to get our players on the field to understand, ‘It’s just a game, she doesn’t hate me, she just wants to win the ball,’ and we need to come with that same mentality.”
It’s a match that the Eagles have been striving towards for months.
“We really want that next one,” Peters said when asked about his team’s goals for the postseason. “Our goals were to win the conference, and we went undefeated in the conference, and to win the sectional.
“We’re right there. This close,” he said, as held his left hand up — covered in a black winter glove to ward off the cold — and brought his index finger to his thumb. Not touching the two, but leaving the smallest bit of space between them.
A gap he hopes he will soon be able to close.