The Fairfield High School girls soccer team is hoping for a much better start in Tuesday’s Division I regional semifinal rematch with highly regarded Loveland than the Indians suffered through when the two teams met in the regular-season opener Aug. 19.
Fairfield had finished warming up and was heading for the sidelines when one of the team’s senior leaders suddenly crumpled to the ground, the victim of a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Later on in the game, her replacement went out with a partially torn hip muscle. That the Tigers prevailed 3-0 almost was an afterthought, Fairfield coach Pat O’Leary said.
“We knew going in that playing Loveland was going to be tough,” O’Leary said. “We’d scrimmaged them the year before, and they hammered us. It took an hour for the game to get started. We were all out of sorts. That game was different.
“We’ve made a lot of adjustments since then. We watched film, trying to figure some things out, and we made some changes on defense.”
Whether those changes are effective enough to make up the three-goal margin will be displayed in the two teams’ 7 p.m. rematch at Mason. Tuesday’s winner is scheduled to meet eith Mason or Springboro on Saturday at a time and site that’s still to be determined.
The Indians and Tigers both have beaten Mason this season, Loveland by 5-0 on Sept. 19 and Fairfield by 2-1 on Oct. 12 on the Indians’ home pitch in a game that clinched for them the outright Greater Miami Conference title.
Loveland (18-1), the Eastern Cincinnati Conference champion, goes into the game ranked No. 2 in the Ohio Scholastic Soccer Coaches Association Division I statewide poll. The Tigers’ only loss was by 1-0 at Sycamore on Oct. 7, and they’ve outscored their three postseason opponents by a combined 10-0, giving them 16 shutout wins this season.
“They’re still the same team everybody is trying to beat,” O’Leary said of Loveland, which lost to Springboro in last year’s regional final. “They were ranked No. 1 in the state for the majority of the season. They have the same types of tendencies. They’re great on set plays. They’re talented in the air. They’re hard to score on. They’re a talented team. They’re definitely the mountain.”
So how does a team beat the Tigers?
“One step at a time,” O’Leary said. “It’s like that question, ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’ We’re trying to hone in on the things we do well. We’ll try to eliminate silly mistakes in our half. We’re trying to do what we’ve done all season long and minimize mistakes.”
Fairfield (15-3-1) has logged 10 shutout wins, all credited to senior goalkeeper Maiya Caldwell, including all three postseason games by a combined 11-0. The Indians are 15-1-1 since losing to Loveland and Turpin in their first two regular-season games.
One key has been depth that’s helped Fairfield overcome losing three players to torn ACLs and reach their first regional semifinal since 2004, a trip they earned with a 3-0 win over Lebanon in a district championship match last Thursday. A win would send the Indians to their first regional final since the 1998 team lost in the state championship match.
“To be honest with you, it’s something as coaches we don’t want to worry about,” O’Leary said. “When somebody goes down, our motto is ‘Next man in.’ When we lost McKenzie Tamm on Senor Night, (sophomore) Alexis Williams stepped up and scored a big goal against Lebanon.
“The girls really push each other at practice. We enjoy watching them because they’re so competitive. That’s what we love about them. Since they play each other so hard, they go into games thinking, ‘This should be easy just because we’re beating up on somebody else.’ They’re like caged animals, ready to go. We’re like, ‘Open up the door and let them out.’ ”
O’Leary was hoping for help from an unexpected source. In a display of GMC teamwork, Sycamore coach Brian Fallon sent O’Leary a text saying that if Fairfield needed any help to let him know.
“I sent him back a text saying anything he’s got would be appreciated,” O’Leary said. “I hope he doesn’t wait too long. We only have one more practice, and the game’s (Tuesday).”
Rams headed north: Badin (12-5-2) will make its sixth straight regional appearance Tuesday, facing Tippecanoe (15-3-1) in a Division II semifinal at Chaminade Julienne at 7 p.m.
The Red Devils are a high-powered Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division squad that’s tallied 73 goals this season. The Rams have 40.
Tuesday’s other regional semifinal will pit Indian Hill vs. Bellbrook. The regional title will be decided Saturday at a time and place that have yet to be determined.