By Will Willems/Times Sentinel sports editor
— The 10th-ranked Zionsville Lady Eagles soccer team knew they challenge was tough heading into the sectional final against No. 1 ranked Carmel.
The Greyhounds came in ranked 12th in the nation, having only lost twice in the previous three seasons and having not suffered a loss at home since 2008 when Zionsville topped them. Despite all that, the Lady Eagles came out and played “nearly a perfect game” and topped the Greyhounds 2-0 to capture the Sectional 17 title Saturday, Oct. 6.
“It is amazing,” Zionsville head coach Ramon Aguillon said. “I am speechless. We knew that in order to win this game we had to play a perfect game and that is what we did, a nearly perfect game. Defensively, to shut a team like that out, is unbelievable. Our girls deserve all the credit in the world for the way they played tonight — I am extremely proud of them.”
After a scoreless first half, the Eagles struck first with 34:44 left in the game. Natalie Estes kicked a corner that found the head of Annika Schmidt, who headed the ball toward the goal. Katherine Ratz was positioned in front of the goal and flicked it into the back of the net to give Zionsville the 1-0 lead.
Thirteen minutes later, the lead grew. Zionsville won a free kick in the corner from where they had just scored. Estes took the kick and while it missed a group of players that jumped for the ball, it found the foot of Schmidt, who put it in the back of the net with exactly 22 minutes to play.
It was only the second time all season Carmel (which had only allowed five goals and had 14 shutouts this season) had allowed two goals. Ironically, the only other time was its only other loss of the season, a 2-1 defeat to Terre Haute South.
“We talked about how Carmel might be the best defense in the state,” Aguillon said. “In order for us to score we had to take advantage of the deadball situations, because we knew scoring in the run of play would be extremely difficult. We paid a lot of attention in practice to challenge those balls in the air and that is what we did. Both goals were just scrappy play and the girls just wanting it.”
Carmel continued to press forward looking to get back in the game, but the Zionsville defense was up to every challenge.
Goalkeeper Catherine Schmidt had seven saves in the match.
“Annika Schmidt, our central defender, Abby Shroyer, all the girls did such an amazing job clearing the balls out,” Aguillon said. “They stepped up big today; they believed in themselves and got the result and that is the most important thing. (Catherine) was literally on her line a couple of times in the second half, and she stood her ground and wouldn’t let the ball in. It was pretty remarkable.”
The shutout was the 11th for the Eagles this season, including the third of the sectional in which they outscored teams 12-0.
The three wins in the sectional came after the Eagles had gone 0-1-4 since Sept. 10.
“We realized that the end of the regular season was not what we wanted it to be, and this team was special and we could accomplish some pretty neat things,” Aguillon said. “In order for us to do that, we had to make sure we were focused and we knew we had the talent; it was just a matter of putting it all together. And I think it came together really nicely. The girls believe in themselves and that is the most important thing. This is just our third sectional in school history and it is really special.”
The Eagles will host the regional and start regional play today, Oct. 10 against Cathedral.
Zionsville defeated the Irish 1-0 earlier this season. Aguillon is happy that the team is coming in on a hot streak.
“Once you get to this level and once you start playing like this. it is all about being on a streak,” Aguillon said. “It is all about getting hot at the right time, just like any other sport when you talk about playoffs. I think this will go a long way, I think the girls will use this as motivation, and we definitely don’t want to stop here. We still have a big challenge. We aren’t done, the girls know it, and we will do everything we can to get past the regional.”