It was an uncharacteristic season for the Leslie girls soccer team, but one first-year coach Jake Derby hopes to use as a blueprint for years to come.
After capturing their first ever league and district titles, the Blackhawks fell to Jackson Lumen Christi, 2-0, Wednesday in the Division 3 regional semifinals at Williamston High School.
The loss put an end to Leslie’s 21-game winning streak.
“We had a successful season,” Derby said. “We met all of our goals: we won both of our weekend tournaments, we won our league, we beat Lansing Christian and we won districts.
“Today, I believe, we were the better soccer team, but we couldn’t put a ball in the back of the net. (The girls) know that, so they left here knowing they had a good season and a very good game today.”
For the second straight season, the Blackhawks (22-3) were eliminated from postseason play by the Titans. And for senior midfielder Katelyn Carroll, that’s a tough pill to swallow.
“I’m going to have to hear about it at home,” said Carroll, whose sister attends Lumen Christi. “But we accomplished all the goals we set at the beginning of the season … Making it to regionals was the best part — like an add-on.
“It’s not too disappointing because it wasn’t a bad loss. We played our best soccer, we connected and we just didn’t long-ball it. We played really well.”
Midway through the first half, Leslie was whistled for a handball in its own penalty box, which led to a penalty-kick goal by Lumen Christi’s McKenna O’Shea. Then, with less than two minutes remaining in the half, a failed clearance attempt by the Blackhawks’ backline led to a tap-in goal for Mallory Hestwood.
Leslie had several second-half opportunities to score goals and shift momentum but were unable to capitalize.
With 26 minutes remaining in the game, the Blackhawks earned a free kick just outside of the Titans’ 18-yard box. Sophomore Brooke Valdez took the kick and launched a ball into Lumen Christi’s six-yard box that found the feet of several Leslie players, but the bouncing ball was eventually cleared out of bounds.
“It’s hard to get on the end of those,” Valdez said. “Especially when there is so much commotion in the box, you can’t always get an eye on the ball.”
Junior Halley Conine had a chance to cut into the Titans’ two-goal lead nearly 10 minutes later when she ripped a shot from 25 yards out, but the ball clanked off the crossbar. With 1:35 left in the match, Valdez took a shot from 20 yards away and the ball, once again, went over the outstretched arms of the goalie and off the crossbar.
“We had the opportunities, but we were just unlucky,” Valdez said. “You have your good and bad days.”