BEAVERCREEK — Less than 24 hours before they were to take on Columbus Watterson for a chance to play in the Division I state championship game, coach Steve Popp had his Beavercreek girls soccer team running through several 7-on-7 drills, and running hard.
Popp broke his team down to three separate teams and had them don bright orange, pink and yellow pinnie pullover mesh jerseys to differentiate each team. He then had them flying around Frank Zink Field doing a series of 7-on-7 passing drills, touch drills, penalty kick and free kick drills, and finally some header and kick scoring drills.
“A lot of the things we do are working with the ball and our passing and ball control. We like to move the ball a lot. We had three separate teams playing tonight, and we’ve been doing that all year. There was a lot of running tonight, even though it’s the night before a game, but we feel like we’re in really good shape, and that’s one of the reasons. We work on our conditioning all the time, to keep ourselves in the best shape we can.”
This was no walk-through practice before a big game. Players were colliding, hard shots were fired at their fellow teammates, bodies were falling to the turf.
But players could be heard encouraging each other with each jarring hit or well-placed pass.
Beavercreek (22-0-0) defeated a solid Mason team on Nov. 3 in the regional final at Monroe to earn a shot at state semifinal against once-beaten Columbus Watterson (18-1-2).
Popp said his talented bunch grabbed the lead early against the Comets in the first half, and then resolved to keep it in the second.
“We came out with good pace and put good pressure on them early in the game. We scored a goal right around the 27 minjute mark and then around the 25th miute smark, so we got up on them early. Our first half was a good solid half. What always concerns is us that a team like Mason is a really good team and they could certainly come back,” Popp said.
Mason had defeated Beavercreek, 1-0, in the district semis a year ago, the last time Beavercreek had lost a match.
“They had much better control in the second half, and we knew we were going to handle their pressure the whole 40 minutes in order to keep them out of the nets. Obviously, we knew that if we could shut them down, we’d be in good shape. But we knew that was going to be tough against a solid team like Mason,” Popp said.
Diana Benigno scored the two first-half goals for the Beavers, then Ella Bianco scored on a second-half penalty kick for the final Beavercreek score against Mason.
Beavercreek’s girls team is making its first trip to the state Final Four since 2004.
Contact John Bombatch at 937-372-4444, Ext. 2123.