Freshman Campbell Bolinger of Manchester maneuvers the ball upfield during Wednesday evening's Regional game against Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian.
Freshman Campbell Bolinger of Manchester maneuvers the ball upfield during Wednesday evening's Regional game against Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian.
NORTH MANCHESTER - The Manchester Squires’ girls soccer side immediately displayed a speed advantage over the visiting Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian Braves, but the Squires struggled to convert numerous defensive stops into offensive opportunities. Consequently, their sectional championship season ended on the pitch of Good Fields in a 2-nil loss to the Braves in Wednesday’s IHSAA Class 1A regional semifinal.

The significantly greater time played on Manchester’s defensive side put Blackhawk Christian in a position to fire 17 shots on goal, greatly putting the odds to score in their favor.

Braves midfielder Sage Martin found the back of the net from greater than 30 meters on her third shot on goal at the tenth minute of the 80-minute regional semifinal fray to lead 1-0. Blackhawk carried that lead into halftime.

An early heavy first-half deluge created a muddy crease for Manchester’s athletic goalkeeper, senior Kindra Stetzel, who had to recover from sliding back to regroup, and block the Braves’ first score.

“22 (Martin) had a really great shot,” Squire head coach Jen Birch noted. “I have 100-percent confidence it was a slide-in-the-mud. My keeper got out of position because she slid back.”

Blackhawk Christian added their second goal 72 seconds into the second half when Martin was on the feeding side of Allie Middlebusher’s long goal. Goals outside the 18-meter line were the only way the victors could strike with results.

Birch’s side, however, had difficulty getting the ball past midfield, and senior Hadley Schannep fired Manchester’s first of only two shots on goal for the entire match at the 22nd minute.

“Throughout the season we just struggled to get the ball up top,” Birch remarked. “(We couldn’t) send it through and over to our corners. But again, that comes with experience, and last year we graduated a lot.”

The Squires started five freshmen: Addie Brubaker, Molly Schannep, Karsyn Kamphues, Campbell Bolinger, and London Spangle who gained valuable experience in their 2021 postseason run.

“I’m excited for them,” Birch said. “A couple of them have never played before. The growth we’ve seen from the beginning of the season to now is just phenomenal. I’m excited for where this program will go (in) the future.”

The Squires’ defenders, including Brubaker and junior teammates Ella Clifford and Jennifer Perez, put in a lot of work defending nearly a dozen shots at close range and cutting off Braves’ passes inside the 18-meter line.

“I am proud of these kids,” Birch said. “(The) defense just shut them down over and over; the heart in these kids.”

Brubaker’s evident speed and good sense of where she was on the pitch turned heads among fans from both sides. The freshman is already directing traffic on the defensive half of the pitch with her returning upperclassmen.

“Our keeper is a senior, and she talks to Addie, and Addie directs on the field,” Birch remarked about her freshman’s soccer IQ. “She’s picked it up well. She’s a really intelligent, hard-working kid, and she really loves the sport.”

Manchester finished their 2021 season at 4-10-2. Blackhawk (8-8-2) advances to Saturday’s regional final at Taylor facing the winner of the Faith Christian-Tipton semifinal, whose score was not final at press time.