Beat Homestead once in a girls soccer regional game, and you've accomplished something. Do it two years in a row and you've established something bigger.
After consecutive seasons knocking off Homestead in the regional semifinals, Leo High School's girls soccer program has announced its arrival as major player year in and year out. The Lions did not just ride one talented group of players to success in 2011.
“It means everything to these girls,” coach Jerry Jenkins said of advancing to the Class 2A East Noble Regional finals against Bishop Dwenger. “They saw who we graduated last year and people through we'd be a one-year wonder. These girls have the heart of the team to play for each other and they're exciting to watch. They're fun to watch.”
Leo beat Homestead 2-1 (5-4 penalty kicks) on Wednesday to advance to the regional championship game against Bishop Dwenger at 1 p.m. Saturday. In another regional title game, Bishop Luers will play Oak Hill at 1 p.m. Saturday at Canterbury.
For Leo (14-3-2), this season has shown the Lions are more than capable of carrying on success after the graduation of Madi Oyer, Katie Pannabecker and Hannah Field.
Other key players have emerged, with sophomore Millie Adams taking over as the team's leading scorer with 17 goals and 16 assists. The center midfield tandem of junior Cassie Hackbarth and Danae Miller have grown into the role of playmakers that Oyer filled for the last four years.
“Cassie and Danae have come and played well together after they got to know each other,” Jenkins said. “I told them, 'Realize your aren't Madi and play your game and you'll be fine.' They've handled everything well, and the last six games they've been stronger on the ball and more physical.”
The Lions returned their starting goalkeeper, junior Toby Carman, and four defenders (junior Erika Ruhl, sophomores Emily Thompson and Allison Schwieterman, and freshman Hannah Tkacz) have helped the team to multiple scoreless games.
Carman is fearless in the goal, Jenkins said, and the other defenders work as a cohesive unit. They will have their work cut out for them in slowing Dwenger's Kellee O'Shaughnessy, who scored all four goals in a regional semifinal shutout win over Norwell.
“These four girls all play great together,” Jenkins said. “They're all fast.”
The Lions won the regional last year and advanced to their first semistate. They're one win away from repeating that feat and continuing to establish Leo as one of this area's elite girls soccer programs.