Kirtland’s upcoming appearance in a second straight Division III regional championship game didn’t happen by accident.
Hard work, talent and determination have helped the Hornets to an 18-2 record and back-to-back district titles, not to mention that trip to the state championship game last fall.
Under head coach Ed Bradac, the aforementioned attributes have become staples of the program and each one is as important as the next.
But, selflessness could be the key to it all.
For instance, junior Maya Zovko led the 2017 Hornets with 21 goals scored and finished second on the team with eight assists. With the emergence of freshman Erika Zschuppe, who leads the team with 33 goals, Zovko accepted a new role, one that limited her scoring opportunities but strengthened Kirtland’s attack.
Zovko has scored eight times and leads the squad with 23 assists.
“I think at first, Maya had to wrap her mind around it but then she embraced that role,” Bradac said. “It shows her maturity and it shows the quality of player she is. It is a force to reckon with when No. 27 (Zovko) and No. 23 (Zschuppe) are coming at you and then you throw the other girls at them.”
Zovko quickly embraced her new role and she hopes her team-first mentality carries over to the rest of the squad.
“This year, I wanted to make sure everyone broke the selfishness,” Zovko said. “That’s important for me. I know that not being selfish, it wins games. That’s what I want to focus on even going into my club season after this. That’s something I need to work on, not being selfish, my vision on the entire field and making those key passes to win those games. I think if everyone picks up on that, going into the next few games if we’re not selfish we can easily win these next games.”
Junior Lidia Rodin also accepted a role change after leading the team in scoring with 14 goals as a freshman in 2016.
Now, the Hornets have three quality attackers to rely on every match.
“Lidia is our leading scorer as a freshman and Maya was our leading scorer as a sophomore and now Erika is our leading scorer,” Bradac said. “Maya is setting Erika up and Lidia is setting Erika up. They have been incredibly unselfish.”
That unselfishness was never more important than in Kirtland’s 4-2 win over Cuyahoga Heights in last week’s district championship match.
The Hornets trailed 2-1 before scoring three second-half goals to down the Redskins.
“Here’s the luxury we have,” Bradac said. “We start (Zovko) at forward and then we’ll pull her back to the midfield. Against Cuyahoga Heights, she’s the catalyst that pushes us early in that game. At halftime, we made the decision that we need more possession at midfield and we know we’re going to get it from her. If she plays within herself, and that’s what we keep talking about, one and two touch, there’s nobody in my opinion that plays a better ball.”
Another trademark of the Bradac era has been a stingy defense. That’s where senior Emily Ungrady comes in.
Ungrady, who scored a pair of goals and added three assists last fall, embraced her own position change to strengthen the team.
She moved from midfield to defense and has helped the Hornets limit opposing teams to just 16 goals in 20 contests.
“Back in June, I started to drop hints to Emily that she would anchor our defense,” Bradac said. “Safe to say, I was not her favorite coach at the time. As time passed, she quickly realized how valuable she is to our defense. Not only did she embrace her new role, but she has also excelled at being one of the best defenders in the area. We have had some outstanding defenders over the years and I would rank her as one of the best I have ever coached. She is a tremendous leader and motivator.”
Ungrady is playing in her third straight regional final. She was a part of Kirtland’s 2017 state runner-up squad and as a sophomore, she was a part of the Gilmour Academy team that played in the Division III state title game.
Kirtland plays Doylestown Chippewa in the regional finals on Saturday at Streetsboro High School. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:00 p.m.