By Ryan Kaczmarski
The entire season has come down to one game.
The Rocky River girls varsity soccer team has been red-hot all year – going undefeated in the conference (6-0), while compiling and overall record of 13-0-1 – and it is looking to win the West Shore Conference title tonight with a win or tie at Bay.
Bay won the season-closing game and conference title last year on Rocky River’s turf, and the Pirates would like to return the favor.
“I don’t look at it as a revenge game,” Rocky River head coach Patrick Hopkins said. “They have a new team, and it’s a new program. They beat us last year because we didn’t execute what we wanted to do. We didn’t step up and do what we were supposed to do and they benefited from that.
“They’re a great team,” he added. “They were a good team last year, with a phenomenal goalie, and we played to their strength.”
Hopkins does not downplay the importance of a rivalry game for the conference title, but he likes to look at the bigger picture.
“We have our expectations that we’ve been talking about all year, and whatever happens (tonight) isn’t going to interfere in any way with what we want to do, or where we want to go,” he said. “It’s great for our conference to have strong teams, fighting for the championship. It’s great for the schools and great for the communities, but we want more. We’re not taking the game lightly in any way, because it is a big game, and no matter how good each team is, it’s going to be a battle.”
“If we beat Rocky River, we win the conference, and that’s how it should be,” Bay head coach Jack Griffiths said.
Griffiths knows that his squad will have to keep Rocky River’s Grace Bennett and Abby Elinsky tightly covered to keep the ball out of the Rockets’ net.
“I’ve seen Rocky River play a few times this year, and I’m really impressed with them,” he said. “They are the cream of the crop, but I think we have a really good team, too. If we can control their offense, and possess the game – that’s our strength – and keep the ball in our offensive zone and away from their two forwards, then it’s just a matter of us putting the ball in the net.
“They’re a good team, so we’ll bring our ‘A’ game and we’ll be ready for them.”
The game will feature two goalkeepers who have a combined 16 shutouts this season in Rocky River’s Sara Connelly and Bay’s Ashley Grisnik.
“Ashley was our junior varsity goalkeeper last year, and we were a little nervous about her performance, but she has come out this year and become one of the stars on our team,” Griffiths said. “She’s had a great season, and she’s going to be challenged – along with our defensive line – with Elinsky and Bennett.”
Connelly is ready for the challenge of tonight’s game, and she is happy to finally quit talking about the game and just play it.
“Last year was awful, when they celebrated on our field, and we’ll never forget that,” she said. “Now, we just really want to come at them hard and beat them on their own field, and celebrate there.”
Connelly is also looking to match Rocky River’s record of 13 shutouts in a season.
“Yes, I love for my team to succeed and win – that’s all that really matters – but I still want those shutouts,” she concluded.
The game is tonight at Bay Memorial Stadium at 7 p.m.