COLUMBUS: Walsh Jesuit freshman Sofia Rossi had much of her freshman season taken from her when she suffered a stress fracture in her left leg Sept. 28. She missed the end of the Warriors’ regular season and wasn’t a factor during Walsh’s run through the state playoffs leading up to the Division I state title match with Mason on Friday night.
On Thursday night, 24 hours before the championship match, Rossi let her coaches know that she had just been cleared to play 20-30 minutes.
“We freaked out,” Walsh coach Dino McIntyre said. “I was like, ‘What do you mean? If you can play 30 seconds, let us know.’ ”
Late in the first half, only 10 minutes into her return to the field, Rossi came away with the ball after a corner kick and found the back of the net to secure Walsh’s seventh state championship in Division I or Division II with a 2-0 victory over Mason.
“I was so excited to play in this game,” Rossi said. “I was never sure I would play. But I was so excited. My team, they helped me out a lot.”
In the 36th minute, junior Julie Knapp crossed the ball on a corner kick for Walsh. It was immediately sent straight into the air and then kicked around a bit. Rossi ended up with it in front of the goal and fired it past Mason goalkeeper Toni Bizzarro.
“Right place, right time,” Rossi said.
Her left leg forced her to sit on the sideline for over a month. And it won the Warriors state title No. 7 in a 14-year stretch, as Mason (18-3-2) never could put together a viable scoring chance.
“It doesn’t get old,” McIntyre said of winning another state championship. “But what makes this one special is when you’re humble, you never know when you’re going to come back, you never think you’re going to come back, you never assume it. … Right now, I can say this is probably the greatest achievement.”
Walsh (20-0-3) added the insurance goal in the 69th minute. Again off of a corner kick, senior Jessica Hlosek ended up with possession and flipped it over her head to sophomore Katie Quinn, who followed a miss off the near post with a second shot that beat Bizarro.
The first goal was all Walsh’s defense needed. The second goal was the nail in the coffin.
Using a rotation of goalkeepers between sophomore Lauren Demarchi, who started the title match, and junior Libby Grace, Walsh didn’t allow a single goal through the state playoffs. Three of the final four games were won by a final score of 1-0.
Demarchi and Grace, along with Walsh’s back four defenders, powered the Warriors through the state playoffs that included shutout wins over offensive-driven teams Hudson, Jackson and Strongsville.
“The back four have been phenomenal,” McIntyre said. “[Senior Kaitlyn] Semelsberger, [senior Emily] Rogers, [junior] Colleen Grace and [freshman] Marin Auth have been a wall for us. Those four, they’ve been amazing since the beginning. Those four, they won the state tournament for us.”
This was the third state title for Walsh’s senior class, including midfielder and leading scorer Maddy Anzelc. But after having lowered expectations dropped even further after the Warriors lost 2012’s leading scorer Halle Stelbasky before 2013 even began, title No. 3 feels different.
“We were not expecting this one,” Anzelc said. “At the beginning of the season a lot of people doubted us. They didn’t think we’d make it this far, didn’t think we’d even make it out of districts. Proving everyone wrong, proving the previous beliefs wrong, it was amazing.”
McIntyre wasn’t sure a return trip to Columbus was possible, either.
“We really weren’t thinking too much about coming back to Columbus,” he said. “These girls persevered. They proved me wrong over and over again.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.