Annika Dahlmann scored the game’s only goal as Saline defeated Skyline to win its fourth consecutive SEC Red title Thursday at Hornet Stadium.
Saline entered the game with 7-0-1 record and needed only a tie to clinch sole possession of the conference title. The Hornets can conclude their third straight undefeated conference season Tuesday when they host Monroe on senior night. Saline has won four straight SEC Red titles.
Coach Ryan Williams said it’s no small feat going undefeated in the SEC Red.
“Playing all the Ann Arbor schools twice – all the Ann Arbor schools are tough. They’re always going to get up for a game against Saline. For our goals, they placed an emphasis on coming out and winning the SEC. So to do that is awesome. We’re really happy from them,” Williams said. “It’s three years in a row we’ve been undefeated in the SEC Red. That’s a great accomplishment.”
Saline must still beat Monroe Tuesday to pull off the hat trick.
The first 12 minutes of the game featured back-and-forth play. Freshman Emily Eitzman burned down the right wing and nearly beat the goalie to a loose ball. Eitzman’s pressure caused her to flub the ball and lose control. Eitzman battled a Skyline defender for the loose ball and won it, but by the time she shot, the Skyline keeper was able to scramble back into position and catch the shot.
Saline also had an early corner kick which failed to generate a shot on goal.
After about 12 minutes of back-and-forth play, Skyline took control of the game for about 15 minutes. The Eagles seemed to be everywhere on the field, getting to every loose ball to keep Saline contained in their own zone. Their best chance came after a Saline misstep on defense. The Skyline player lofted a ball that bounced off the top of the crossbar, although as coach Williams said, leaping keeper Annika Udrys was in position to make the save if the shot was lower. Skyline also sent a corner kick through the box, but couldn’t generate a shot. Udrys had to make a couple saves during the Eagle’s stretch. With about 13 minutes to play in the half, Saline started to tilt the field toward the Skyline goal. With 11:15 to play in the half, Morgan Jones played a direction kick through the center, where Hannah Bird got her head on the ball. Sydney Jarvela charged after the ball into the crease, but the keeper got there first.
With five minutes to play in the half, the ball bounced toward Alyssa Stavros in a crowd at the top of the box. Stavros leaped and kicked the ball, but the shot went over the goal. Less than a minute later, Bella Petrock found herself all alone with the ball about 20 yards out. But her kick sailed far over the crossbar. About a minute later, Morgan Jones burst in from the right sideline, dribbled into a great shooting area and fired a shot over the bar.
Coach Williams and the Hornets weren’t satisfied with their play in the first half. They felt they gave Skyline too many good looks and wasted too many of their own.
“Skyline is always good at quick switches and then attacking with waves and numbers. We talked to our center-mids about cutting off passes to deny their switch. In the second half we didn’t give up much because we knew that’s their bread and butter,” Williams said.
The other defensive adjustment was to deny Skyline players their “turn.”
“They have talented, quick players who can turn on you if you over step, so we said if their back is to you and they have the ball, be patient. We did a lot better job and gave up a lot less in the second half,” Williams said.
Offensively, Saline focused on feeding Emily Eitzman and Hannah Bird the ball to let them use their speed and strength to create opportunities.
Dahlmann’s goal came off a turnover at midfield. Sydney Jarvela broke up a play and fed Bird on the left wing. She hit Dahlmann, streaking up the middle of the field with a pass. Dahlmann made a quick cut to her right to shake one defender and, before a second defender could knock her off stride, she then fired a quick low shot past the diving Skyline keeper.
Williams said Dahlmann earned the goal.
“I’m so happy she got that goal because she made her run from about the 50-yard line. It was a dead sprint. There were a couple combinations with our outside player and we could see that late run in the middle from the sideline, where our girls did a good job yelling ‘Find Annika. Find Annika.’ She did. Annika was very composed and it was a great finish,” Williams said.
After Saline fired four shots over the goal in the final 12 minutes of the first half, Williams wanted his players to tone down the power and fine tune the accuracy, and that’s what Dahlmann did.
Saline carried the play the rest of the way.
“We were creating opportunities and we knew they were getting more and more tired as the game went on,” Williams said. “We felt our depth was an advantage for us.”
The Hornets didn’t allow a shot on goal in the second half. It was the 10th straight shutout for Udrys and the Saline team.
Saline is home to Monroe Tuesday for senior night before visiting Tecumseh Wednesday.
The Hornets will face Skyline again at 7 p.m., May 30, when the district tournament begins at Saline High School. The winner will face Pioneer or Huron in the district semifinal at 7 p.m. June 1. The championship game is at 7 p.m., June 2. Belleville, Lincoln, Bedford and Monroe compete on the other side of the bracket. The winner of the district tournament will play in the regional tournament at Dearborn High School, June 7-9.