ROOTSTOWN - In his 22 years leading the Champion Golden Flashes girls soccer team, coach Dan Houle only had two district titles to his credit.
Coaching in his last district final - he will retire at the end of this season - Houle finally got his third.
Behind a great defensive game, and the Flashes' lone goal scored by Amber Walker, Champion defeated Rootstown, 1-0, in a Division III district final.
"I've now won three district titles and I've had two losing seasons in 22 years," Houle said. "I have a ton of district runner ups. But overall, not bad."
What wasn't bad on Tuesday night was the play of his defense, which he quickly calls "the best in the area" and "the best he's ever coached." Goalkeeper Kelly Robinson agrees.
"I couldn't do it without my defense," Robinson said. "I believe they are number one in Trumbull County."
Tribune Chronicle / Dave Dermer
Champion’s Amber Walker (24) dribbles the ball away from Rootstown’s Shelby Furness (17) in the first half of their Division III district final Thursday in Rootstown. The Rovers’ Annie Boyle (15) and Champion’s Maura Jacobs (21) trail the play. The Golden Flashes won, 1-0.
Champion got off to quick lead when Walker took a pass from Kayla Sowers in the ninth minute and put the shot in the lower right corner of the goal to give the Golden Flashes a 1-0 advantage. It was a lead they had to protect all game.
While Champion (14-3-2) put in the only score, the Golden Flashes were outshot 15-3 on goal by the Rovers, who were able to keep the ball in their half of the field for a majority of the game. This is where the Champion defense came into play.
"We were really stressed out tonight," senior captain Jenna Parry said. "I don't think I've ever been so nervous playing a game as I was tonight with the score being what it was."
Rootstown (13-3-3) had many opportunities to put the ball in the back of the net, but none as close as a pile up on goal early in the first half. A Rootstown cross ricocheted off the crossbar and ended up in a pile of players right by Robinson. Somehow, the ball ended up in her hands.
Then, the best save of the night came from Parry - a three-time all-state player. Robinson made the decision to come out of the goal to chase a ball, which got past her. However, Parry cleared the slow-rolling shot and sent it out of bounds.
Robinson, in what Houle said was "her best game all year," finished with 15 saves.
"Senior year, you just have to go out with a bang," Robinson said. "And it's Houle's last year, so we wanted to do it for him too."
Toward the end of the game, the Rovers kept putting pressure on the Flashes' defense. Their last chance came on a free kick 20 yards from the goal with 8 minutes left. The ball sailed over the Champion defense's wall but was swatted down and saved by Robinson - sealing the victory.
"I kept talking to Kelly and saying we just need to pull this off, and there's not that much time left, we just have to stick it out and we get to play one more game," Parry said.
That one more game will be against the winner of Hawken and Gilmour Academy on Tuesday at Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School. The Hawken-Gilmour Academy game was postponed Thursday and will be played tonight.
No matter the opponent, for the last time in his career, Houle and the Flashes left the field a district champion.
"We just find a way, I don't know what else to say," Houle said. "All season long we've started slow, tonight was constant - constant slow, constant fast - but it worked."