Members of the Lynchburg-Clay Lady Mustangs celebrate as they receive their regional championship trophy. (HCP Photos/Stephen Forsha)
Members of the Lynchburg-Clay Lady Mustangs celebrate as they receive their regional championship trophy. (HCP Photos/Stephen Forsha)
LOGAN — After the Lynchburg-Clay Lady Mustangs won their regional semifinal game last Tuesday night, head coach Dennis West said he and many members of his team caught a respiratory illness, resulting in missed practices and the school converting to remote learning for two days to end the week.

All of that happened as the Lady Mustangs were waiting to play in the Division III Regional Finals on Saturday morning at Logan High School, and it was easy to see the Lady Mustangs were battling adversity before and during the biggest game of the season.

Even with everything that was thrown at them — including facing a strong Grandview Heights Lady Bobcats team — it was Lynchburg-Clay celebrating when the final seconds ticked off the clock, as LCHS defeated Grandview Heights, 1-0, advancing to the OHSAA State Semifinals for just the second time in program history.

LCHS head coach Dennis West — who was battling illness himself — talked about his team winning the regional championship with all the elements they battled this past week.

“We have the flu, a cold, I don't know what. We won that game up (at Zane Trace) Tuesday night, came home, and the next day half the team was not at school or was sick. We called off practice, then that evening school went on remote learning for Thursday and Friday,” West said about his team battling adversity this week. “Thursday we had practice, I had seven girls out. Friday they were all back, and they looked like death warmed over, so we didn't know what we were getting into here. So, wow.”

Not only did Lynchburg-Clay win their game at Chieftain Stadium on Saturday, they did so on Nov. 5, repeating history because exactly six years ago, LCHS won their first regional championship on Nov. 5, 2016 at Chieftain Stadium by a 1-0 score over Bishop Rosecrans.

Funny how history repeats itself.

Even the lone Lynchburg-Clay goal came in dramatic fashion in those two games six years apart. On Saturday against Grandview Heights, the Lady Mustangs took the lead for good with a game-winning goal from junior Autumn Wilkin — who came off the bench — as she kicked the ball into the back of the net off a rebound from a kick 35 yards out by senior Kalyn Rich, whose shot bounced off the goal post and right to Wilkin, who finished the sequence of events for a one-goal Lady Mustang lead with 23:47 left in regulation.

“I just knew coming straight off the bench that I had to play aggressive, be there and make sure everybody was in with the game and make sure that everybody was just happy overall. I want to be involved with the game,” Wilkin said. “That was it for me.

“Our seniors are very special to me, and I wanted to get them to that step [the state semifinals]. I’m happy that we’re going.

“I want to say big props to our goalie, Allie Waits,” Wilkin continued. “She’s awesome. She’s only a sophomore, and she’s got so much ahead of her. Our defense is amazing. They work well with each other, they listen. Kalyn (Rich) and Aubrey (Slack), our mids, they’re just everywhere, and all of our forwards. I think we’re a great team.”

West also spoke about the goal and the Lady Mustangs’ defense.

“Our defense is just killer, and our offense just keeps pressure on it,” West said. “Autumn (Wilkin) never even played the first half, came in and she was where she was supposed to be, when she was supposed to be. That's the difference in the game today. Two times [this season] we played Grandview to win 1-0, and we’re the only team this year to shut them out — twice. This is incredible.

“They've shown what they're made of by these close games. They hang in there. There have been years in the past where we might have folded, but on our defense, man alive. We shifted, and when we scored we immediately shifted to a double mid, defensive mid, so that gave us another one. We sacrificed a little up front, but you got a one-goal lead, you got a good defense, one’s all you need. Good for us.”

West continued to speak highly of the defensive play by LCHS on Saturday, and whether he thought going into the season that his defense would be as good as they have been in 2022.

“I thought we'd be good, but didn't know how good we would be with some of the girls back there,” the head coach said.” Olivia (Van Fleet) is a force, but the three in front of her are a force also. I don't care who we sub back there, we get the same results. They just shut teams down, and it frustrates teams.

“If they take shots, they’re all from outside of the 18, and we'll take our chances with that. And then shooting into the wind, we got lucky there. Chris and I were talking about that. We thought well, let's get the wind in the second half, and it worked out for us.”

The first half was scoreless between the two teams in the Elite Eight contest, though it wasn’t for lack of effort by either side — it was because both teams were facing stout defenses that were protecting their goals like they were guards in a Brinks truck.

The defense started early for Grandview Heights as they stopped LCHS pressure six minutes into the contest. LC answered with some defense of their own, as junior Lainie Lunsford stopped the offense of the Lady Bobcats while they were in pursuit of the goal with 33:20 left in the opening half.

LC sophomore goalie Allie Waits made a diving save with 25:20 left in the first half, and even with Grandview Heights applying lots of pressure on the Lady Mustangs’ defense, they never broke, with a goal attempt sailing high over the net. Then it was more defense by Waits, and with around 13 minutes left in the opening half, the LCHS defense — like they have all season and postseason — made more stops to keep their opponent scoreless.

Rich just missed on a goal chance with around 12 minutes left in the first half, and again, Waits made a stop at the goal with 9:55 on the clock.

There was more offensive pressure by the Lady Bobcats that the defense of the Lady Mustangs fought off, including a shot that was stopped with another diving save by Waits at goalie with 3:53 left in the opening half, then around a minute later a corner kick by Grandview Heights was stopped by the LCHS defense, leaving the score at 0-0 as halftime took place.

West spoke about what he and his team discussed at halftime.

“We talked about communication. We talked about making sure that we didn't give them chances. We knew with the wind at our back, it was going to help us big time, but we also talked about that wind at our back, you’ve got to be careful on the passes you make, and the wind’s going to take it a lot farther than you expect,” West said. “So we talked about that. (Assistant coach) Shelby (Chisman) talked to the girls about defense, and she’s really good, and she played on that Final Four team in 2016. She's got all these dates embedded in her memory.”

Again, it was defense to start the second half, with Lunsford getting the ball away from the goal with more stellar defensive play, and LC nearly took the lead on a ball kicked by Rich that just sailed over the goal.

Then came the moment that changed the game when Wilkin scored the aforementioned goal with the assist by Rich’s kick for the 1-0 lead.

The game wasn’t complete yet as there were still 21 minutes left in regulation to finish. The Lady Bobcats didn’t stop with their pressure, and LCHS didn’t slow down, either.

Lynchburg-Clay’s defense swarmed the offense of Grandview Heights as time continued to tick off the clock with just under 14 minutes left in the contest.

Grandview Heights tried everything to break the defense of the Lady Mustangs by using corner kicks as well as a free kick (at the 6:30 mark), and each time the defense stood strong. A big stop by the LCHS defense came from Olivia Van Fleet, as she played a key role in keeping the free kick from tying the score, kicking the ball out of play. The ensuing corner kick was stopped by LCHS, and eventually the game ended with LCHS winning by a goal.

Assistant coach Chris Tipton has now coached both of his daughters on regional championship teams (2016 and 2022), and he spoke about that and the seniors whom he has coached for a long period of time.

“Starting this year, this is where I’d hoped we'd be. Obviously, Dennis and I started together back in ’99, but then I took a break to do some other soccer stuff,” Tipton said, “When I came back in 2016, this is where we ended up. We won this game to go to the state finals with my oldest daughter. Now, you know, my last year, we're going back to that same game with my youngest daughter. So yeah, just lots of emotion.

“It’s exciting. I just love this, this group of girls, especially this group of seniors. They've been with me for a very long time. I just don't know how the year can get any better.

“Over half the team is sick with the flu or something,” Tipton continued. “We know, you get to this point, it's going to be tough, but I can't be more proud of the girls the way they've persevered, coming out today, with none of them feeling good, and just laying it all out. They’re doing what they needed to do to win that game. I could not be more proud of this group.”

Next is the OHSAA Final Four, and the state semifinal game for LCHS will be against the Cincinnati Country Day School Lady Indians on Tuesday, Nov. 8 at 7 p.m. at Loveland High School.

Want to talk more about history repeating itself? The last time the Lady Mustangs played in the State Final Four, the opponent was Cincinnati Country Day in 2016.

As for 2022, in the postseason (Region 12), Cincinnati Country Day — who is 17-5-0 overall and were the No. 1 team in the final state poll — has defeated Fayetteville (11-0), Cincinnati Deer Park (8-0), Brookville (4-0), Springfield Greenon (5-0), and Kettering Archbishop Alter (1-0), outscoring their opponents 29-0 in five postseason games.

Lynchburg-Clay — who is 20-1-1 overall and were the No. 11 state ranked-team in the final poll — has defeated (in Region 11 games) Chesapeake (9-0), Albany Alexander (7-1), Eastern (1-0), North Adams (1-0, SO) and Grandview Heights (1-0), outscoring their postseason opponents 19-1.