CARROLL – After being out with an ankle injury, Nikki Cox is finally getting healthy.
It’s Granville’s opponents now feeling the pain.
Teaming with sophomore Rose Sawyers to provide a deadly combination, the senior All-Ohioan had a goal and four assists Tuesday as the Blue Aces overpowered Chillicothe 8-0 in a Division II regional semifinal at Bloom-Carroll High School.
Sawyers had a hat trick before the midway point of the first half, two of the goals off Cox assists, and Taylor Beitzel scored twice for Granville (15-3-2) which plays Tri-Valley (14-5) at 3 p.m. Saturday at Dover Middle School in the regional finals.
The Blue Aces, a state semifinalist last year and state runnerup in 2013, will be after a third consecutive state berth. That’s not good enough, Cox said.
“I’m feeling a lot better,” she said. “We had a couple people out in the middle of the season, but now we have everyone. We’ve played in the state the last two years, and we haven’t won it. We want to break through.”
Granville used its speed and skill to make quick work of the Cavaliers (15-2-3), and Sawyers and Cox set the tone. Less than five minutes in, Sawyers scored off a Cox assist. Later, she had two goals within a minute, the first when she worked her way free in the box and the second off another Cox pass. With 23:50 left in the first half, the Blue Aces already led 3-0.
“It’s give and take,” Sawyers said. “When I see them trying to stop her, I’m running the other way because I know she’ll find me.”
Coach Scott Forster said it’s not a surprise Cox had four assists. With other weapons like Sawyers and Beitzel, Granville’s all-time scoring leader doesn’t have to shoulder all of the load any more.
“Nikki is very good off the dribble, and Rose’s movement off the ball is so good,” he said. “All year long, she’s used her speed to get behind the defense.
“Taylor really came on for us in the tournament last year. She’s struggled a little bit this season, but this should give her a big confidence boost.”
Chillicothe coach Zach Breth knew his team faced a big challenge with the Blue Aces, ranked third in the final statewide poll.
“That Nikki Cox is something special,” he said. “She’s creative on the ball. She is really good at picking out a killer pass. She makes Granville really dangerous. They play an enjoyable brand of soccer.”
The Blue Aces weren’t done in the first half. Cox’s freshman sister, Katie, had an assist to Beitzel. Nikki Cox later blasted one home from 15 yards out, straightaway, and came back with an assist to Beitzel as Granville led 6-0 at the break. Sawyers added a second-half assist to Gracie Dennison, and Nikki Cox’s final assist came to Hannah Musick.
“Going in, we didn’t know anything about them (Chillicothe), and it benefited us,” Sawyers said. “It was all on us. Right now, we have everyone stepping up for us.”
Forster said his veteran team has been able to deal with the high level of expectations.
“We’re seasoned and have been there before, and that gives us a big upper hand,” he said.
Leadership is coming to the forefront for Granville, Cox said.
“Even a sophomore like Rose is leading,” she said. “When your top five players are leading in practice and the games, the other players see that and they want to follow.”