LAKEVILLE – Earlier in the week, Lakeland Christian Academy girls soccer head coach Nat Raber referenced a David versus Goliath scenario that his team would likely face. Drawing Class 1-A No. 1 Wheeler in its first-ever regional appearance, folklore was an angle the Cougars were banking on and possibly rewriting.
Wheeler scored on five of its first six shots to crush LCA in an eventual 7-2 rout in the morning session of the LaVille Girls Soccer Regional on Saturday.
“I think our team gave it their best effort, and honestly, that’s all I could have expected,” Raber said. “Wheeler is a lot faster and skilled than anyone we’ve seen, and when you’re number one in the state, there’s a reason for that. They were the better team today. Just facts.”
Wheeler, which came into the match 19-0 and the defending northern representative from last year’s IHSAA State Finals, were on a mission from the start. The Bearcats were already rolling from scoring 29 goals in its three sectional matches, and needed just two minutes to get on the board when Riley Garcia turned and fired a rocket from 15 yards that caught Cougar keeper Maddie Paris completely off guard.
Katlynn Mistina took a cleared corner and hit a one-timer home just five minutes later. At 2-0 less than eight minutes in, it felt like a million to one odds.
Raber maintained his pregame stance that his club needed to just have fun with it, and worked on specific individuals and their spirits. Wheeler, on the other hand, continued to stay all business. Gia Diaz took a cross and hit a shot that caromed under the crossbar and in after the ruling from the assistant referee confirmed its fate. LCA finally got a shot in a couple minutes later on an Anna Reimink free kick, but Wheeler turned the field around and worked to Lyric Green, whose shot was blocked by Paris, but to the waiting head of Green, who played the rebound perfectly for a 4-0 lead.
Claudia Phillips chipped in a shot from a corner kick to make it 5-0.
Welcome to the big time, LCA.
“Wheeler collapsed a lot on defense and kept eight people back on our attack, and that’s really difficult to make anything happen when there’s no space to work,” Raber said. Wheeler held LCA to just three shots all game. “Hat’s off to them scheming against us. Normally, we can build some offensive pressure and counter a little, but they didn’t allow that.”
Green and Bailey Fairbairn added the second half goals for the Bearcats.
LCA’s historic moment came in the 74th minute, when Tori Calizo scored the program’s first regional goal. With LCA looking for anything to celebrate in the final 10, Calizo collected a familiar through ball as she did often in the sectional run. Her shot clipped the leg of a Bearcat defender and into the netting. Two minutes later, Reimink made one last run through the Bearcat defense, slicing into enough space to take her last shot as a Cougar, going out on a goal.
“I think we’ve set the bar pretty high for our program,” Raber said, whose team, in just its second year of IHSAA eligibility, finishes 14-4-2. “Last year, we had a pretty successful year coming back into it. Winning a game in sectionals last year, then coming back this year and winning sectionals, that was huge for us. I don’t want the girls to sit back and be complacent. Going forward, the new standard is to try to duplicate it, maybe win a regional game, go a little further.”
Wheeler would go on to face Argos, which used goals from Hannah Trump, Alaura Stone and Morgan Dunlap to beat Hebron, 3-2, in the first game of the regional.
Wheeler wouldn’t have much trouble winning its fourth regional title, blowing by Argos, 5-0, in the championship match. The Bearcats (21-0) will meet Lafayette Central Catholic (17-4) next Saturday in the Class 1-A northern semi-state.