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Bears try harder against Clippers

Morning Journal/Michael Burich Leetonia’s Ella Gregorino (12) and Columbiana’s Marco Cagliuso battle for possession during Tuesday’s Division III sectional match.

COLUMBIANA — Leetonia’s starting lineup in Tuesday’s Div. III sectional opener against Columbiana in the boys soccer tournament featured nine girls.

The plan for the Bears before the season started was to have an all-girls team, but there were four boys in the school district who wanted to play so the administration decided on a co-ed team.

Leetonia had only two boys available for the tournament game — one was out with an injury and another suspended because of a red card — so it was up to the 13 girls on the team to take their best shot against a Clipper squad who had only two losses on the season.

The result was never in doubt.

The Clippers scored all of their goals in the first half in the 11-0 win and like they have all season the Bears had to look for the little things to cheer for whether that was the odd breakaway shot attempt or shutting out the Clippers reserves during the final five minutes when Columbiana was instructed to go all out.

“This does make you appreciate and realize that you’re not the best (when playing against the boys),” Leetonia sophomore Maddie Steiskal said.

Steiskal played every minute of the game against the Clippers and she admits that when the score gets out of hand the girls wonder just how well they’d compete against fellow female teams.

“I think about that every game,” Steiskal said. “It is what it is.”

The Bears finished the season 0-14-1 with the tie against fellow co-ed team Wellsville.

“Looking at the other co-ed teams we played this season, Mathews and McDonald stuck out as the teams nearest to us as far as their makeup. Both were about 50-50 boys and girls,” Leetonia coach Shawn Yocum said. “We scored against both of those teams and had decent games against them.”

Even though it’s been a tough go for the girls on the Leetonia team, they still feel good about putting an effort forth that wasn’t necessarily about themselves.

“I’d rather play against the girls, but we did this for the boys so they could have a senior season,” Steiskal said.

The plan is in place for the Bears to have an all-girls team next season and there’s reason to believe that team can take the lessons learned in co-ed play and apply it in the future.

“We have to train harder,” Steiskal said. “We have to go out and get girls to want to play. We have to show them that it’s a fun sport and that we can be good.”

“The coaches in the league are actually excited to see what these girls can do next year,” Yocum said. “I know I’m excited.”

The Clippers (13-2-2) advance to meet Cardinal Mooney on Saturday at Youngstown State University.

“We’re going to come to win,” Columbiana coach Chad Vollnogle said. “We’re going to play our best. I tell them before every game that if you play like I know you know how, we’ll beat every team. If we bring it on Saturday, I think we’ll win.”

Against Leetonia, Collin Schick led the way with three goals. Gabe Heinrich added two goals and two assists. James Porter tallied two goals and Drake Daugherty had a goal and three assists. Ashton Kakavros had a goal and an assist. Travis Cross and Finn Carney had single goal tallies, while Parker Kistler had an assist.

Vollnogle said he understands the struggle of many of the grassroots, small-school co-ed teams and hopes that a future exists where boys and girls can have better opportunities for competition.

“I was on the first Crestview team all those years ago,” Vollnogle said. “Northeast Ohio is building. There’s lots of activity, but I think there’s a lot schools that are afraid to make that leap from a co-ed to (separate) all-boys and all-girls teams.

“I feel bad for the girls because we have some amazing girls in the league. When they’re playing against all-boys teams there are a lot of challenges whereas if they were playing against all-girls teams you would see some phenomenal performances. When you look across the board in the league there is a lot of girls talent in those co-ed teams.”

Match notes

¯ The game against Mooney is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. Saturday. There’s jockeying behind-the-scenes to get it moved to an earlier time because the Div. III boys district cross country meet is set for 1:30 p.m. in Canton. Columbiana has four boys soccer players who also run cross country, so athletic administrators are trying to eliminate the conflict so the boys can compete in both contests.

If Youngstown State University and Mooney can’t budge on the start time, Vollnogle said three of the four athletes have prioritized soccer so they’ll be in uniform against Mooney for sure.

“I’d hate to pull anyone away from cross country, so hopefully it does not come to that,” Vollnogle said.

¯ Leetonia had been consistent lately in fielding separate boys and girls teams, but the boys team graduated seven seniors last year and their replacements never materialized.

¯ For 35 minutes of the second half Columbiana worked on its formation and when an attack did present itself the team kicked the ball backwards and around, focusing on touches and precision passing.

¯ Vollnogle thinks top-seed South Range is by far and away the favorite to win the district.

“They were Div. II last year and continued to play Div. II teams this year and did incredibly well,” Vollnogle said. “It would be an honor to beat Mooney and play against South Range (in the district semifinal), but I really see South Range going to the state tournament.”