BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
WEST POINT – Sam Pothitakis is a rock star.
There’s really no other way to describe her play Friday night in Holy Trinity Catholic’s 1-0 gut wrenching loss to Pella Christian at West Point’s South Park in the Class 1A Region 4 semifinals.
Pothitakis must have had a dozen saves from smothering blistering shots in one-on-one situations, to making leaping and diving grabs and blocking balls out of the box. Throughout the 80-minute match, she was perfect. Almost.
With less than eight minutes remaining in the game, the Eagles’ freshman speedster Avey Amelse outraced the Crusader defensive line down the left sideline in front of the Pella faithful and fired a shot from about 13 feet. Pothitakis blocked the shot, but the ball got loose in the box when junior Myra Ford found it on the right side and slipped it past Pothitakis, who was in a full dive back to her left.
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“I pulled to my left and touched it back out but the girl on the back post just slid it in,” Pothitakis said after the game.
She said the game was different from their other games because of the pressure of knowing the game could come down to just one goal.
“It’s been different from our past games. We usually win just giving up one goal or none and this was a lot of pressure. It was a different type of soccer and it was really kind of fun,” she said.
Head Coach Michael Sheerin said Pothitakis was the teams “POG” or Player of the Game without hesitation.
“Sam was outrageous today and that’s the only way I can describe it,” Sheerin said. “This was the most she’s been tested too, and she came up huge.”
In past year’s the Crusaders have had to face perennial powerhouse Davenport Assumption, but the path in the regionals was different this year and that made the loss a little easier to swallow. That… coupled with the effort the Crusaders gave for the full 80 minutes.
“This team worked their back side off and it’s been a phenomenal season. To go out like this instead of going out to Assumption… I’d rather go out like this and I think the girls would, too,” Sheerin said.
Sophomore Claire Pothitakis who nearly put the Crusaders up 1-0 in the second half, said the loss was a whole lot easier to take than having to lose in Davenport.
“They’re really fast and really good, but they are really good sports and that made it fun,” Pothitakis said.
Pothitakis was matched up with the Eagle’s Emma Dunsbergen who challenged the Crusader on most HTC runs on offense. Pothitakis said Dunsbergen was faster than her, but she knew her midfielders would have her back.
“It’s hard to get past a fast person, but we have the skill of the team and midfielders coming up to help us so it’s not like I’m going up against her all by myself, I have everyone with me,” Pothitakis said.
The Eagles made few defensive mistakes, but Pothitakis was able to get free in the 18-minute mark up the middle. She ended up one-on-one straight at the goal and powered a shot at Pella’s freshman keeper Lydia Zylstra, who came up to challenge Pothitakis and took the ball off her stomach causing it to flare right. Pothitakis went to the ground after colliding with Zylstra and the Crusaders hadn’t caught up to the play to put in the carom, allowing the Eagle’s to regroup.
The Crusaders had another shot in the 2nd half off a corner kick from senior Taylor Boeding that sailed into a melee in the box after a missed header the ball slipped to the ground and a hidden Crusader fired a shot that caught striker Elle Rashid flush in the midsection sending her to the ground and then the ball was cleared.
Holy Trinity got several key clears on Pella runs from junior Ashlynn Haas and Emily Box, while Maille Sheerin, Mya Lawlor and Eryn Anderson were able to keep the speedy Eagles in check most of the game and turn outside runs inside.
Sheerin said the game turned on the Eagles’ bench strength.
“The biggest deciding factor was there ability to rotate 4 at a time. That gave them just a little more leg than where we’re at. But in the second half we wanted the goal so badly we stretched,” Sheerin said.
“The second half we felt we more than earned our right to be here and we were gonna come out and win, but that’s where we pushed ourselves because we wanted that goal so bad. We knew it was going to be a one goal match. But today we played with class and at the end of the day, if Claire scores on that goal, we’re the one moving on.”
The Crusaders say goodbye to seniors Box, Boeding, Anderson, Mya Lawlor, Katie Scoville, Elyse Pothitakis and Yulu Zhang.
The 9th-ranked Crusaders end the season 12-7 and Pella Christian (10-8), which dropped out of the state rankings of the top 15 last week, moves on to face Nevada on Tuesday at a site yet to be determined.