EASTERN CHINA – For the third time this season, the St. Clair women’s soccer team took on St. Clair Shores Lake Shore. The stakes were higher, the weather was warmer, and the crowds were bigger.
But the result did not change.
The Saints edged the Shorians, 2-0, in a Division 2 district final at East China Stadium on Thursday night.
Kennedy Hollerbach and Mya Freeland each scored for St. Clair, which improved to 15-3-2 and won its second district title in as many years. The Saints will take on Bloomfield Hills Marian in a regional semifinal at the DCCA Complex in Dearborn on Tuesday.
“It’s great,” Hollerbach said. “We’ve worked so hard all season, played tough games and put in all the effort to win.”
“We came into the (MAC Blue) undefeated,” said junior Ella Farkas. “I feel like we deserve this.”
“It feels good to be district champions again,” Freeland said. “It’s thanks to our efforts – that’s how we got here. I’m excited and I know the rest of the team is too.”
St. Clair won the first two meetings against Lake Shore by scores of 1-0 and 4-0, respectively. The rubber match followed the same pattern.
“I knew Lake Shore would play strong today,” said St. Clair coach Cliff Freeland, who is also Mya’s father. “Winning a third time is always difficult.”
From the start, much of the action was on the side of the Shorians. St. Clair’s precise passing helped push him deep into Lake Shore territory. The Saints struggled to generate clean shots early on, but they persisted in their attack. And finally it paid off.
With 6:23 to go before halftime, Hollerbach redirected a cross from Tara Malone into the bottom right corner of the net. This broke the scoreless tie and put the Saints ahead.
“We practice this all the time,” Hollerbach said. “We also learned how to attack the ball in the air. So I kicked it and hoped for the best.”
“We are a dynamic team,” said Cliff Freeland. “So I think we had that first (goal), took a deep breath and then we just started playing better football.”
“We stopped bombing the ball downfield and found some feet to pass it,” Farkas said. “Then once we found some feet, we got the second goal.”
Mya Freeland scored on a breakaway to freeze the game with 3:30 left. She used a quick hesitant movement to bite the goalkeeper, then slid the ball past her.
“After half-time our communication improved so much,” said Mya Freeland. “I think that’s the reason we were able to shut them out, it’s that defensive communication.”
St. Clair celebrated with its student section on the field after the game. The Saints are going to enjoy this one, but they’ll soon be focusing on their next challenge.
“We had three big goals this year,” said Cliff Freeland. “One was (to win) a league title, the other was (to win) a district and we want to eliminate the four-time state champions next week.”
That would be Marian, who beat St. Clair 5-0 in a regional final last year. But the variables are a little different this time around. Tuesday’s match will be played on an artificial turf pitch.
“We played them on grass (last season),” Mya Freeland said. “Playing on grass is very different from playing on grass. I think our team is better on grass. But I’m also excited because we know more about their style and how to defend them better.”
“We know what to expect this time,” said Cliff Freeland. “I think we’ll give them everything they can handle.”
Contact Brenden Welper at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @BrendenWelper.