This is the time of year high school soccer coaches hope playing a tough schedule will pay a dividend.
That was the case Tuesday night, when the St. Vincent-St. Mary boys eliminated pesky North 3-0 in a Kent Division II sectional tournament opener at John Cistone Field.
“The philosophy we’ve adopted in our program is that the only way to learn to win tough games is to play them in the regular season,” second-year Irish coach Phil Alvord said.
Sophomore Andrew Pearson, junior Chad Kanakkanatt and senior Seleke Korleh were goal scorers for St. Vincent-St. Mary (7-9-1), which will advance to play at Pepper Pike Orange on Saturday.
“We’ve played ranked team after ranked team,” St. V-M captain and senior midfielder Stephen Dages said. “It’s do or die [this time of year]. You are going to leave it all on the field every game.”
Dages and senior captain Brendan Luebbering organized an Irish defensive effort that limited the Vikings to three shots on goal. St. V-M put 19 shots on target and had a 9-0 advantage in corner kicks.
“[Our schedule] pushes us to be at our best every day, in practice and in games,” Luebbering said.
The Irish opened the season 0-4-1, then captured a huge midseason win at state-ranked Rocky River, and now are riding a string of three consecutive shutouts.
“We’ve been moving forward defensively in such a great way that our offense knows it can take the time to pass and possess,” Alvord said.
Pearson’s goal less than 12 minutes into the match was a left-footed rocket from 30 yards out and a confidence booster for the Irish.
“Getting the first goal definitely takes a lot of the pressure off, especially when it’s a strike like that,” Dages said.
Late in the first half, Kanakkanatt used his speed to outrun a trapping North defense. He created a one-on-one chance against Viking senior goalkeeper Khagendra Pokhrel and scored.
Korleh’s tally came early in the second half.
Alvord was wary of North (11-5-0) and co-City Series Player of the Year Dhan Rai.
“When your opponent wins double-digit games, you have to respect that,” he said. “I think it makes Akron look so much better to have another City Series team doing so well outside of just Firestone.”
North coach Michael Kane has been associated with the program since it was reinstated eight years ago, including the past three as coach.
The Vikings were pointing to this season and will graduate 13 seniors from the best team North has fielded.
“We’re going to take a little step back losing all of these seniors, but the program has become pretty substantial and I look forward to it continuing to be a pretty strong program for years to come,” he said.
The Vikings sponsored a junior varsity team for the first time this year.
Pokhrel made 14 saves in goal for North. Senior keeper Danny Ratsavong had three stops for the Irish.
Juniors Brock Wise and Ethan Hagerty were credited with assists for St. V-M.
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