By Nelson Coffin
With the pressure of an unbeaten season and the chance to grab a second consecutive A Conference indoor soccer title on the line, Mercy was understandably a little tight in the early going of the championship match Saturday afternoon against second-seeded John Carroll (7-3) at Clarence “Du” Burns Arena in Canton.
Enter Jacqueline Garst, who had not scored a goal all season.
Fortunately for the Magic (10-0), the sophomore forward found the perfect time to end her scoring drought when she adroitly played a ball off the boards to herself and stuck the ball in the goal to give her team a 1-0 advantage with 9:26 remaining in the first half.
Garst followed that effort with a back-breaking conversion of a rebound of a shot by leading scorer Ada Clare Tempert with just three second left before the intermission in what turned out to be a 4-1 triumph.
“It’s really not that surprising,” Mercy coach Nick Gill said about Garst’s coming-out party, “She really just started to get healthy around playoff time. She’s not flashy, not the fastest and doesn’t have the hardest shot. But she just makes incredible off-the-ball runs.”
Junior defender Claire Geier, one of the mainstays on the Mercy backline with freshman Alexandra Jankowski and junior Adrianna Gunther that allowed just nine goals all season, said getting those goals from an unexpected source gave the Magic a big lift.
“We were a little nervous,” Geier admitted. “But getting goals from (Garst) made us even more excited.”
Garst said that she was the one who staked her team to a 2-nil advantage, which is indicative of the Magic’s depth.
“It shows that everybody on this team gets a chance,” she said.
Tempert nailed the final goal of her long and storied soccer career at Mercy when she took possession of a ball played in to her by junior midfielder Palina Jordan inside the red line and powered down the right alley to finish with a right-footed rocket with 3:09 remaining in regulation.
Just 90 seconds later, sophomore midfielder Emma Aviles followed her three-goal performance against Friends in a 9-0 semifinal verdict by propelling in a free kick from the red line to build the lead to 4-0.
Junior Nia Christopherproduced John Carroll’s lone goal just 10 seconds later to close the scoring for the day as the Magic’s successful title defense became a reality.
Gill, who guided Friends to A Conference crowns in 2012 and 2014, said that the defense, with Gunther the linchpin and Geier and Jankowski key cogs in front of junior goalie Alivia McDermott, is what makes the Magic so dominant.
“This is the most talented team I’ve ever had, in terms of how they play the game,” he said. “And my assistant coaches, Kris Ward and Brian Casserly, are as big a part of this as anyone. They do a great job.”
The Magic will lose just three seniors from this year’s championship squad.
“Other teams talk about being young, but we’re pretty young, too.” Gill said.
One coach who can legitimately talk about her team’s youth is Hayley Howe of John Carroll.
“It’s really exciting when you see all the freshmen we have on our roster,” she said. “It was new experience for many of our players, and I was happy the way we kept our composure.”
She complimented her lone senior, Erin Scannell, for her leadership.
“Two years ago, she raised that trophy with us.” Howe said. “It was a lot like herding cats for her, by helping to keep the younger players in line. She really showed a lot of class.”