GREEN Injuries are an unwelcome, unavoidable part of sports at any level.
The Green boys soccer team may not have needed a reminder of that sports truism prior to this season, but the Bulldogs got one anyhow. On their way to a 7-5-3 regular season record and 3-2-1 mark in Federal League play, they dealt with injuries that kept multiple starters out of action at different points in the campaign.
"We started the season with three starters out and our leading scorer, Nick Russell, has had a thigh injury and hasn't trained a bunch ... maybe a day or two before a game," head coach Jason Nelson said.
That isn't an ideal formula for any team, let alone one going up against a deep, skilled Federal League that boasts a resurgent Jackson team that has stayed atop the league standings in recent years but hasn't had the same level of postseason success lately that it enjoyed earlier this decade.
However, the Polar Bears appear to be back to their normal standard and with Hoover having "added quality size," Nelson noted, the league schedule was especially taxing this time around.
What has been encouraging for Green is that it's gotten healthier late in the season and leading into an opening-round sectional tournament game against Barberton, the Bulldogs hope they've left the bulk of their injury woes behind. With captain Chris Silvidi and vice captain Jacob Woodling providing leadership, they're aiming to move past the bumps in the road they've encountered and keep their focus ahead.
Regardless of their level of health, the Bulldogs' success this season has hung largely on their offensive attack. That, Nelson said, is by design and has been the way he's tried to build his teams during his tenure at Green.
"Our teams are set up best by our ability to go at teams our other teams, be aggressive and put them on their back foot, and on defense to bend but not break on our back line our," Nelson said. "We want to put teams under pressure with our offense."
That approach puts extra pressure on the defense and helming the aforementioned back line is junior goalkeeper Nathan Smith, who is relatively new to the position by has the physical skills and attributes necessary to succeed playing between the pipes.
"He has the God-given ability of a 6-foot-5 wingspan and good shot blocking ability with long arms," Nelson said. "He's still learning how to use his feet, but he's learning quickly."
Having Smith in goal with his long reach is one asset for a defense that helped pace the Bulldogs to the eighth seed in the Akron Division I district bracket. Like the Green girls team, the boys are in a different bracket than the rest of the Federal League and also like the girls, that isn't necessarily in the Bulldogs' favor.
Their bracket contains some of the best teams in the area and possibly in the state and Nelson believes it may rank as the most difficult district in the state this season. However, one positive aspect of the bracket is that it gives Green a chance to have one more home game before heading out on the road or to a neutral site for games. Having the home game in the sectional semifinal against Barberton also benefits one particular group.
"It means a lot to our seniors to have one more home game and to get to play on their field in front of a home crowd, even though this year I feel like this is one of the toughest districts in Ohio," Nelson said.
A win over Barberton would mean a road game against top-seeded Medina, the top-ranked team in the most recent Ohio Scholastic Soccer Coaches Association poll. The rest of the bracket contains strong sides such as Copley and Hoban, both of which have been forces in recent postseasons. Navigating the bracket will be a tall task for whoever emerges as the district champion, preparing that champion well for the regional level.
Given what they've dealt with to this point in the season, the Bulldogs feel like they're headed in a good direction and the question now is how far in that direction they can go.