Beavercreek celebrates after a victory against Strongsville in the Division I state soccer championship on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus. David Jablonski/Staff

Girls Soccer: Beavercreek ready to defend Division I state title

The Beavers beat Strongsville 4-2 in the Division I state championship game last fall, becoming just the third girls soccer team in state history to finish the season a perfect 24-0-0.

They’ve spent the last few months being honored across the state, including making trips to the Ohio Statehouse and a Dayton Dragons game. The trophy has been stored in the athletic office all summer as it went on several trips with the team.

»LOOKING BACK: Photos from Beavers’ championship season

“We were fortunate to have a lot of people recognize the accomplishments of the team and we really appreciate that,” said Beavers coach Steve Popp, who was named the United Soccer Coaches 2018 High School/Youth Girls’ National Coach (large school) of the Year.

Now, the Beavers have turned their attention on winning another state championship, but that’s something the team hasn’t really talked about, he said.

“We realize 2018 is behind us,” Popp said. “It was a great year. The kids had a great team, but that’s 2018. It’s 2019. It’s a different team and we have new challenges that will face us.”

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The Beavers — ranked fourth nationally earlier this month by topdrawersoccer.com, a national ranking site — are 3-0 early this season, extending their winning streak to 27 straight games.

Beavercreek returns six starters, including senior midfielder Diana Benigno, a University of Dayton commit who had 61 points (23 goals and 15 assists) last season.

“She’s the type of player you like to build your team around,” Popp said. “She can control the game so well with her pace of play and how she distributes the ball, how she controls the ball. She does a good job of making her teammates better.”

Last year, junior forward Marcella Cash led the team with 91 points (38 goals, 15 assists), but did not return for her senior season to concentrate on club soccer with Ohio Elite, according to the Xenia Gazette. Previously an Indiana University commit, Cash is now committed to Mississippi State, according to topdrawersoccer.com.

The Beavers return senior center back Tiernan McKitrick, who plays a key role in the team’s defensive unit, Popp said.

“We rely on her heavily to organize the defense,” he said.

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Beavercreek will be heavily tested before it enters the postseason, Popp said. The Beavers beat Dublin Jerome in the season opener and face several tough Greater Western Ohio Conference games against rivals Centerville, Springboro and Lebanon. They’ll play several tough non-conference games against Cin. St. Ursula, Cin. Mount Notre Dame, Upper Arlington and Tippecanoe, he said.

“Our focus is really trying to go out and see how we do matching up against the strong teams on our schedule,” Popp said. “Going down that list, we’ve got quite a few. We’re not approaching this year any different than any other year in the past. We work hard to get our players in shape and train them to play our system.”

Last year’s experience will help come October, he said.

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“Our players do a pretty job playing in pressure situations, especially the strength of the teams we play,” Popp said. “If you go down our schedule, there’s a possible regional matchup almost every other game. That’s part of our regular season schedule. We’ve always believed in trying to schedule really strong opponents, work hard to compete well and hopefully we can get a result out of what we do.”

Five things to know

1. The Greater Western Ohio Conference will field nine girls soccer teams in two division this season after fielding 20 teams in four divisions a year ago. There are five teams in the GWOC American Division (Beavercreek, Centerville, Fairmont, Springfield and Wayne) and four in the GWOC National Division (Lebanon, Miamisburg, Northmont and Springboro). Lebanon won its division a year ago, but is set to move to the Eastern Cincinnati Conference in 2020, meaning the GWOC will become an eight-team conference.

2. The Greater Catholic League Co-ed conference will have a new look this season — one division. Alter has won three straight GCL North Division titles, but the conference is now made up of one division. The Knights advanced to the regional final in D-II last season, falling to Indian Hill 3-2 in a shootout.

3. Xenia has won three straight division titles, but to make it four in a row they’ll have to do it in a new league. The Buccaneers were one of 10 schools to depart the GWOC to create the new Miami Valley League. It will consist of two divisions, the Miami (Butler, Greenville, Piqua, Tippecanoe and Troy) and the Valley (Fairborn, Sidney, Stebbins, West Carrollton and Xenia). Tippecanoe also won a division title last year in the GWOC.

4. Waynesville is seeking its fifth straight Southwest Buckeye League Buckeye Division title. The Spartans are 38-1-1 in the division over the last four seasons with their only loss coming last season against Preble Shawnee.

5. Troy Christian has been dominant in the Metro Buckeye Conference, having won or shared the league championships eight of the last nine years. The Eagles return several young players from last year’s team, including leading scorer Lexi Salazar (15 goals, nine assists).

Five players to watch

1. Diana Benigno, Beavercreek: The Beavers senior midfielder had 23 goals and 15 assists for the state champion Beavers last season. The D-I All-Ohio first team selection committed to play collegiately at the University of Dayton.

2. Lauren Bastian, Centerville: The Elks senior midfielder had eight goals and 13 assists for the Elks last season. Bastian has committed to play collegiately at the University of Cincinnati. She earned D-I All-Ohio second team honors last season.

3. Alaina Casey, Carroll: The senior defender was named D-II All-Ohio second team last season, tallying four goals and four assists a year ago.

4. Anna Sweeney, Alter: The senior forward scored 19 goals and added eight assists for the Knights last season, earning Greater Catholic League Co-ed North Division Player of the Year.

5. Bailey Sedlak, Bellbrook: The senior netted 15 goals with six assists for the Golden Eagles, earning D-II All-Ohio second team and Southwest Buckeye League Southwestern Division Player of the Year honors.

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