GREEN One criticism that can't be levied against the Green Bulldogs is that they've failed to face a taxing schedule that has seen them battle some of the area's best high school girls soccer teams.
The hope for the Bulldogs is that their 11-2-1 record through the beginning of this week is indicative of their ability not only to compete with top foes, but to beat them and do so when it matters most. Although their most recent game prior to this week was a disappointing loss to Jackson that gave the Polar Bears the inside track on yet another Federal League title, head coach Dan Harlan believes his team is doing well in the face of injuries that have taken three starters out of the lineup - two possibly for the rest of the season.
Unlike the rest of their league rivals, Green is slotted in the Akron district bracket, meaning Jackson and the rest of the Federal League isn't on hand for the sectional and district rounds. That doesn't mean the road is anything resembling easy for the Bulldogs.
"The bracket is going to be very difficult to navigate through. We have three starters out, two out for rest of year and another starter we just got back and who played limited minutes in the Jackson game," Harlan said. "But we have depth and we have put ourselves in position to just have to step up and play our game."
Foes such as Medina and Brunswick await in the district, but Green has already seen the Blue Devils this season in a one-goal loss when Brunswick was ranked third in the state. Add in games against Wadsworth, Jackson and Hoban and there have already been plenty of tests this season.
Wooster is the first foe on the postseason agenda and despite the Generals being the sixth seed and Green being seeded third, Harlan expects an extremely physical contest against an opponent who believes it can win and advance.
"For us, it's more for us about how we prepare and get ready," Harlan said.
This season has given Green a unique opportunity to face several teams in its district bracket, which Harlan conceded won't happen every year because with no league foes in the bracket, the Bulldogs simply happened to face a lot of potential tournament opponents in the non-league portion of their schedule.
If they are to succeed in a second go-round with any of those teams, their offensive balance could be key. While the offense's focal point when it comes to opposing defense's attention is senior midfielder Faith Estes, she's actually not the team's leading goal scorer.
Estes, a four-year letterwinner and three-year starter, began the week with nine goals and 10 assists, but Harlan noted opponents often mark her and send multiple defenders her way and force the ball away from her. That's been just fine with players such as junior winger Brooke Fieldson, whose 11 goals top the team and who also has two assists.
Overall, nine players have scored goals and 10 have recorded assists this season, making Estes and her school records for assists in both a year and a career even more effective.
However, Estes and the offense will have to carry a bit more of a burden with teammate Sarah Leemaster likely out the rest of the year with an eye-related injury. Part of the hope for Green is that players who have been asked to switch positions from midfield to defender to help out the back line continue to excel, as Sophia DePew and Emma Dodd have been able to adapt to new spots and continue to be a big part of the team's success.
Senior goalkeeper Lilly Jakuszewski has also been solid and according to Harlan, several goals the Bulldogs have surrendered of late have been less about the keeper and more due to the defense as a unit.
While a rematch with Brunswick, the district's top seed, would take two wins – including one likely over perennial state title contender Medina – the Bulldogs know that getting there would be a feat in and of itself given the level of competition in the bracket. They've accomplished quite a bit already this season and whomever they face in the tournament, it will simply be more of the same for a team that has taken on some of the best in the area and stood its ground thus far.