With the regular season at its end and conference titles awarded, area girls soccer teams now turn their focus to the postseason tournaments and a chance at the state championship.
Three of the top area schools that have goals of winning it all are Howland, Champion and Lakeview.
Coach Shawn Varley has the Bulldogs playing at a peak heading into the tournament. Lakeview is 12-2-2 and won the All-American Conference, National Division with a 9-0-1 mark.
The Bulldogs have allowed only five goals all season, with three coming in a 3-2 loss to Austintown Fitch on Sept. 22.
Last season, Lakeview defeated West Branch before losing 3-0 to Canfield in a sectional final.
Lakeview plays the winner of Niles and Hubbard in a Division II sectional final Thursday at 7 p.m. The Bulldogs didn't play Hubbard during the regular season, and they played to a 1-1 tie against the Red Dragons on Sept. 8.
"Hubbard has had a real big turnaround compared to last year," Varley said. "They have a new coach in Scott Macmillan. We did play Niles. They're a tough, scrappy team. We match up pretty well against them."
The Bulldogs have scored 60 goals as a team, with 34 of them coming from Alli Pavlik. Her sister Abby has added eight as the second-highest scorer on the team.
"Alli Pavlik got 34 goals this year," Varley said. "She has about 90 career goals as a junior. Abby Pavlik is our center-mid and she's playing pretty well."
Senior goalkeeper Elaine Moldovan has had to make only 59 saves this season (an average of fewer than four a game) and has given up only the five goals. Varley said the Bulldogs' emphasis on defense has been the key to their success.
"We play with four in the back on defense and very tight and compact," he said. "We try to avoid goal-scoring opportunities for other teams and transition out.
"We're a pretty veteran team. We return a lot of seniors from last year, so we expect that to play a factor in the tournament. We hope our past experience takes us far."
Under first-year coach Joe Megyesi, the Tigers haven't lost a step, going 13-2 and finishing 10-1 to tie Canfield for the AAC American Division title.
After defeating Warren G. Harding last season in the first round before falling to Brecksville in a sectional final, the Tigers only losses in the regular season this year were to state-ranked Magnificat and to Canfield.
"As a first-year coach, I was pleasantly surprised," Megyesi said of his team's play. "We lost 11 or 12 seniors from last year. This year, we only have one senior starter back from last year. I think the team came together nicely. They're peaking at the right time. We had some good games against Canfield, Austintown, Poland in the last four to five games. On Monday against Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, that was a real good Division II team we beat."
Howland has a balanced attack, with Seyla Perez leading the team with 17 goals. Jenna Dorchock has 14 and Jenn Boyd added 10. Perez also has 10 assists and leads the Tigers with 44 total points.
"Seyla Perez, Jenna Dorchock and Jordan Antler," Megyesi said of his top players. "We had Jenn Boyd who scored highly. We don't have one key scorer, we have three or four individuals who shared that aspect. They all scored quite a few goals."
Howland hosts Kenston in a Division I sectional semifinal Monday at 7 p.m. Megyesi said he's very confident the Tigers will advance to play Stow in a sectional final.
"My son has already been scouting them," he said. "They will do well against Kenton."
Last season, Champion defeated Garfield 3-1 for the sectional final, beat LaBrae 3-0 in a district semifinal, then won the Division III district title with a 2-0 victory over Badger before the Golden Flashes' season came to an end with a 2-1 defeat to Lake Central Christian Academy in a regional semifinal.
This year, Champion went 10-4-2 and 7-1-2 in the AAC National. Coach Dan Houle said Champion achieved almost every goal it set for itself in the regular season.
"We've had a good year," he said. "One of the goals was to allow the fewest number of goals at 11. We gave up 10 this year. Winning the conference was another goal but that didn't come to fruition. Three of our losses were outside the division, to Harding, Niles and Boardman. We also lost to Lakeview. Overall we've done good. We always like to have at least 10 wins.
"We've had a lot of injuries. We had four concussions this season (Maura Jacobs, Morgan McAllister, Haley Sprague and Taylor Busch). We have three back and one not (Busch). At the end of the season we had a multitude of ankles and stuff like that. We have a bye so maybe we'll have a chance to rest."
The Golden Flashes will host either Newton Falls or Pymatuning Valley in a sectional final Thursday at 7 p.m. The Tigers and Lakers play Monday.
"We've already beaten Newton Falls twice in the regular season (5-0 and 7-1)," Houle said. "Pymatuning Valley I don't know much of anything about them."
Champion's offense is led by Amber Walker, who has scored 20 goals this season. Goalkeeper Kelly Robinson has made 115 saves.