After a nearly two-week rough spell, the Worthington Kilbourne High School girls soccer team appears to have recovered in time to finish the regular season on an upswing as it prepares for postseason play.
The Wolves opened 5-1 and were 6-2 before injuries took their toll from Sept. 13-25. Kilbourne went 0-3-1 in that span.
"We were without two defensive starters," said coach Courtney Irwin, who declined to name those players. "One had a bad ankle sprain and the other was out with a concussion. Even with a deep bench, the rhythm of our back line was disrupted. The familiarity and organization wasn't there. The starters have played together and know where everyone is back there. They move together as a unit.
"The girls who stepped in played hard, but they hadn't been playing together with the same girls all season. So we did hit a rough stretch there. The starters can significantly change the pace of the game with distribution. But we're back to 100 percent now and ready to move forward."
The winless streak began with losses to Marysville (3-1 on Sept. 13) and Hilliard Bradley (2-0 on Sept. 18), followed by a scoreless tie with Olentangy Liberty on Sept. 20 and a 3-2 loss to Dublin Jerome on Sept. 25.
The Wolves rebounded with wins over Thomas Worthington (1-0 on Sept. 27) and Westerville North (4-2 on Oct. 2).
Erin Mahaffey scored against Thomas and Alex Lawrence made six saves.
Against North, Celeste Fushimi-Karns, Naomi Barker, Kelley Zebrowski and Hannah Vincent scored.
"I like the balance we have on offense," said Irwin, whose team was 8-5-1 overall and 3-3 in the OCC-Cardinal Division before playing the league finale against Dublin Scioto on Oct. 9. "We don't have one or two players we rely on for most of our scoring. We've got a lot of girls contributing and that has really been nice."
Carli Taute led the Wolves with six goals through 14 games. Mahaffey (5), Fushimi-Karns (4) and Zebrowski (4) followed.
Still the bulk of the credit should go to Selena Fushimi-Karns and Vincent, according to Irwin.
"When both of them are in the midfield, we have a distinct advantage because they are tall, strong and dominant," she said. "They're smart, technical players who may go unnoticed in terms of their stats. But they're our captains and leaders and make things happen. Selena also plays some at forward and we use Hannah at stopper, too. Their knowledge of the game and leadership are keys to this team."
The Wolves, who close the regular season Thursday, Oct. 11, against visiting Watkins Memorial, are seeded eighth in the Division I district tournament. They have a first-round bye and open Oct. 18 against Westland at home. A win would give Kilbourne a home district semifinal game Oct. 23 against 10th-seeded Liberty, Canal Winchester or Delaware.
"We dominated possession against Liberty in that 0-0 tie," Irwin said. "We had 14 shots and they had four. Another good thing about our draw is that we would play all home games until the district final, which is on a neutral field (Oct. 27 at Canal Winchester). We're unbeaten in our seven home games thus far, with five shutouts.
"So we're pretty excited about the draw, being healthy and having a chance to reach a district final. We have a chance for double-digit wins and we're seeded eighth. Who would've thought we'd be in this position after (finishing 2-11-1) last season?"