During Saturday’s team meeting Coach Rene Tadal told his players: “This is going to be a good weekend. This will be a good tournament for us.” Five games and two sets of penalty kicks later the Junior Rhinos made good on their coach’s promise.
Amanda ‘AT’ Taylor clutched the final penalty kick attempt from the Cleveland Hurricane in her arms, and the celebration began. The U17 Rochester Junior Rhinos staked their claim as champions of the 2007 Northern Ohio Cup.
The win capped a weekend filled with drama and irony. The final round rematch with the Hurricane was a mirror image of the previous day’s pool play contest.
On Saturday the two teams played to a scoreless tie at halftime. The Hurricane took control early in the second half.
It wasn’t until Angela Gatti and Abbey Gotham provided a spark off the bench that the Rhinos began to find their rhythm with fifteen minutes remaining. The two found each other on repeated combinations, and the Rhinos established possession in their opponent’s end of the field.
But the chances seemed all for naught. With the Rhinos pressing, the Hurricane used a quick counter that led to a breakaway goal with three minutes remaining in the game.
The time was right for a true test of the Rhinos’ mettle. With time winding down, the U17 ladies mounted their attack. ‘Steady’ Kasey Welch intercepted a pass and played a long ball to the unflappable Maura Wojak. The silky smooth midfielder shielded the ball from an opposing defender and calmly played it back to her AQ connection, Amanda Coffey. The central mid drilled a twenty five foot shot just inside the far post. Ten seconds later the final whistle blew, and the Rhinos had salvaged a tie.
Twenty four hours later the same two teams squared off in the championship match. Again the game would end in a tie. Except this time the Hurricane showed a flair for the dramatic.
The championship match started with the Rhinos on the offensive. Sixteen minutes in captain Jessie Graus drilled a twenty foot direct kick into the opposite side netting to give the Rhinos a lead.
With Coach Tadal imploring his team to play “queek, queek” they held on to a one to nil lead at half. Leah Wilklow stuffed the Hurricane forwards time after time. The crafty outside fullback showed poise and an excellent first touch while stymieing the Hurricane efforts.
As the clock ticked away it was the Hurricane’s turn for the dramatic ending. A scrum just to the left of the goal saw a Hurricane forward emerge with the ball and fire it into the back of the net with fifteen seconds remaining in regulation.
The final whistle blew, and penalty kicks would determine the champion.
Maura Wojak and Kasey Welch converted two of the first five kicks to match the effort from the opposition. Kristin Blair then converted the sixth kick and ‘AT’ made it stand as the winner.
The Rhinos started their weekend versus the Cleveland Select. Cece Gotham began the scoring off a pass from Coffey. The lead at half was one to nothing.
The Rhinos exploded for five goals in the second half. Coffey notched a goal three minutes into the half.
Three minutes later Graus converted Coffey’s corner kick for a score. The goal brought murmurs of a pizza shot for the head ball.
Six minutes later speedy Kelly Daly was rewarded for her efforts as she finished a pass from Welch.
Blair rounded out the scoring with two blasts twenty-feet from the goal. Hustlin’ Ellie Hamilton assisted on Blair’s first and Graus set up the team’s sixth goal of the game.
Final score: Rhinos 6 Cleveland Select 0.
Hamilton supplied one of the lasting images of the weekend. As she charged in for a defensive stop, her opponent attempted to make a clearing pass that struck Hamilton square in the face. Undaunted, she quickly shook off the jolt and retrieved possession of the ball.
After finishing the first day with a win and a tie the Rhinos squared off with the Cleveland United.
Cece Gotham started the scoring again on a pass from Jordan Pringle. Ten minutes later Pringle delivered the ball to Wojak who found the back of the net.
In the second half Kelly Daly’s corner kick was redirected back to her, and she did her best Elvis Presley impersonation as she drilled a ‘return to sender’ shot into the opposite corner.
‘AT’ finished with five saves for her second shutout of the weekend as the Rhinos advanced to the semi-final round.
The squad began to show effects of three hard-fought games. Manager, Drusilla Taylor, called the training staff so many times to care for the team’s bumps and bruises that one would swear she had the staff’s number on speed dial.
Nonetheless, the girls rallied for a hard-fought win over the Cleveland Whitecaps in the semis. Emily Wyse took Blair’s pass and tied the score three minutes into the second half. The teams battled for the remainder of regulation.
Wyse, Wojak, Welch, Blair, and Coffey converted their penalty kicks to lead Tadal’s troop to victory and a berth in the finals.