Clarion River Valley Strikers U12 Soccer Squad Finishes Winning Season on a High Note (06/05/17)

(By Matt Lerch)

The Clarion River Valley Strikers U12 soccer team played their last spring game on home turf at the Clarion County Park on Sunday (June 4th), with wins against Greenville, Mercer White and Mercer Bailey, ties against Grove City and Meadville Black and losses against Oil City Delta Force and Meadville Red, the Strikers finished with a 3-2-2 record.

(Player photos by Matt Lerch) Isaac Lerch

What is more remarkable is the record left the soccer team in 4th place out of 13 teams, in the wicked tough District 7 Lake Division of PA West Soccer. PA West is part of US Youth Soccer, Region One, and is associated with US Soccer and FIFA.

Head Coach Marina Kelly, a Clarion University student hailing from the Boston area and player for Clarion Golden Eagle Women’s Soccer Team, was ecstatic with her team’s performance Sunday.  Although the culmination of the season ended in a loss to Oil City Delta Force, it turned out to be the best game of the season with a 0-5 loss.  The reason being is Oil City Delta Force is undefeated, they had never seen a defense like Clarion’s vaunted defense, and they have outscored their opponents 61-2 this season.  Clarion only gave up 5 points and kept Oil City’s brilliant offense scoreless until 20 seconds until halftime.

The old saying goes, offense sells the tickets but defense wins the games.  Although there was no W for Clarion in the columns on Sunday, the crowd was on the edge of their seats during the whole game.

The soggy field was draining from the recent storm and the two teams aligned for the beginning of the game.  Clarion deployed a 4-3-1 defensive structure intending to frustrate the Oil City offense.  An offensive opportunity would only be circumstantial and would have to be quick.  Blaise Cunningham provided the first offensive spark by quickly finding a hole in the defense and shooting on goal.  While not successful he found himself with another shot on goal only to be stopped.

Anna Gribik

Lexi Coull started as the lone offensive striker and worked tirelessly, as always, throughout the game.  Isaac Lerch played the whole game as goalie and stopped 12 shots in the first half.  The Clarion defense worked as a steel curtain protecting Lerch from incoming shots.  Usurping the power of the Oil City offense, center defender Anna Gribik led the defense in literally countless offensive attacks keeping Oil City perturbed.  She was flanked by Alex Leadbetter, Ashton MacKinley and Taylor Alston, all of who kept their competition unspoiled.

Landon Smith also had a shot in the first half, only to be cut off by the Oil City netminder.  In a back and forth effort, Oil City had the opportunity on a foul for a penalty kick just outside the goalie box.  Of course Oil City used their powerful forward star to take the shot but the ball never entered into Lerch’s radius as Cunningham blocked the shot in a Clarion wall.  Just before the half ended, Oil City found a perfect pass from the outside to the awaiting forward and scored.

Isaac Lerch

But there was still hope.  It was halftime and the score was only 0-1.  The whole season, Oil City was able to score without difficulty and never had been held scoreless within the first 10 minutes of the first half.  Clarion held them scoreless until the end of the 30 minute half, and had scoring opportunities.

The second half was opened up with promise but Clarion was scored upon on a quick pass.  Coull found Cunningham on a throw in only to have his shot stopped.  The score was only 0-2 against the best team in the league.

And then Oil City shot a cross and a header found the back of the net.  The defense kicked a goal kick and Oil City took advantage and scored again.  Lerch said “no” in goal when Oil City shot a corner kick with Lerch catching the blast before another possible header.   Lerch again had the acute goaltender senses when Oil City’s star had a penalty kick from half field from a hand ball.  The kick cruised over everyone’s head with velocity only to be stopped by the aware Lerch ending with a thud in the chest.  Stopped cold.

(Photo courtesy of CUP Soccer) Strikers Coach Marina Kelly

Clarion’s offense wasn’t done trying yet.  Coach Kelly switched then midfielder Leadbetter with Gribik.  Gribik’s wheels were ready to roll as she marched through the defense and found MacKinley who shot and was stopped.  Forwards Jason Megnin and Mariah Beary were deployed as well, advancing the ball through the Oil City midfield.  Gia Babington also handled the ball deftly on the right wing but was unable to attempt one of her blistering shots.  Oil City capped off the game with another score making it 0-5 in Oil City’s favor with only 1 minute left.  Lerch finished the game with a total of 22 saves.

Uncharacteristically, the Clarion Strikers played defense for most of the game.  Clarion’s awesome defense that was unyielding all season were missing their co-main attraction of Clarion offense as they were missing Max Southworth and Colson Ritzert that helped Clarion to its winning record.

Coach Kelly was quoted as saying at the end of the game “you all have come so far this season and I can’t wait to see what you have in store next season as I’ll be back.”  One could only hope as Marina Kelly unlocked some hidden potential in this burgeoning soccer club, the Clarion River Valley Strikers.

The 5 Clarion River Valley Strikers teams resume play next fall.  Tentatively, the season will be kicked off by the Second Annual Saturday Night Lights played on the fields of Clarion County Park on Labor Day Weekend.

(Thanks to Matt Lerch for this article and his photos and all the fine articles from this season. Thanks to CUP Soccer for Coach Kelly’s photo. GREAT SEASON, STRIKERS!!!!)