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Selfless soccer sends Saints to district final

Seven different players scored for St. Clair in last night’s district semifinal, making for a great game of what Cliff Freeland calls unselfish soccer.

“We’ve been preaching all year to play unselfish soccer. We knew we had a good group, probably the best group I’ve had [in six years], and they bought into being unselfish,” the head coach said. “I think the leading goal scorer on our team this year has only scored 12 goals, and we’ve scored a lot.”

Sixty-one goals, to be exact, and after the Saints’ 8-0 victory over Croswell-Lexington, their total improves to 69 across 16 games for an average of 4.3 per game.

St. Clair's Kennedy Hollerbeck goes for the ball against Cros-Lex's Kelsey Coombs and Ayden McComb.

Despite securing the victory with a minute and a half still left on the clock, the Pioneers didn’t let St. Clair run away with it entirely. At halftime, the score was only 1-0.

“I saw them do exactly what we asked. The technique we tried was called ‘parking the bus,’” Cros-Lex head coach Kurt Standbridge said. “They did a good job of not getting sucked to the outside. St. Clair really likes to pull their opposition to the outside and just penetrate down the center…so the girls really listened well about staying home and staying in their formations.

“That first half was outstanding. It hurts to be mercied because it kind of overshadows how well we played in that first half.”

If Cros-Lex was “parking the bus,” junior keeper Eliza Nelson was its driver, leading the team with at least 20 saves against nearly 40 shots on goal and commanding leadership.

“I try to work hard the whole time. I’m not afraid to yell at people if they’re out of position and I can tell the right position so that helps,” Nelson said. “I have a different viewpoint of the field because I'm the last one on the end, so I can see who lines up where and tell them where to go.”

Tara Malone, a junior, netted the first goal for St. Clair on a free kick in the first half, and once fellow junior Claire Freeland scored early in the second, the floodgate broke open. With additional goals from Ella Farkas, Taylor Helton, and Kaylen Walker, the Saints led 5-0 around the 25-minute mark.

“We’re a really off-the-ball movement team and we were kind of stagnant in the first half,” Cliff Freeland said. “In the second half our movement got a lot better. I wanted them to play quick. I play six, seven players deep on my bench all the time, so we are a second-half team. I wanted to wear them down and I feel like we really did that.”

Walker scored again late in the game, and Lainey Donaldson and Sam Harwood finished things off to prolong their team’s postseason run.

“I feel like [our depth] helps us a lot because it shows we can work as a team. I scored today and I play defense, and we had four other girls who had never scored before score,” Farkas said. “We can rely on the whole team.”

And for Malone, the depth is what gave her confidence as she stepped up for the free kick.

“It’s easier to know that not just one person has to do it all and we can make connections. We know where to run and who to pass it to and we can trust everyone,” she said. “It relieves the stress and brings my confidence up a little bit…It brings me happiness that I could do that for my team and I got the chance to score the first goal.”

The Saints will look to not only extend their season, but also their streak of district titles Thursday night against Imlay City in North Branch at 4:30 p.m.

“It adds a little pressure because at the end of the day, if we lose we’re done. Since my sophomore year we’ve won back-to-back [district titles], so hopefully against Imlay City we can show up and get another district win,” Farkas said. “And hopefully get a regional title, which would be the first time in St. Clair history.”


For in-game updates and other news, follow Calli on Twitter @ newberry_calli

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