HARVARD – The Johnsburg girls soccer team spent the majority of the regular season playing against bigger competition, expecting the grueling schedule would pay off once the Skyhawks reached the playoffs.
Playing in repeated tight matches built toughness, giving the Skyhawks a mentality they could meet any challenge. But Johnsburg found its role reversed in Wednesday's 1A regional semifinal against Harvard, when after weeks of tightly contested games, the Skyhawks'r offense was able to break free in a 7-0 victory.
With the win, Johnsburg (10-6) advances to Saturday's 11 a.m. regional final against Richmond-Burton, which has ended the Skyhawks' season the last two years. The Rockets earned a berth in the final with a win over North Boone Tuesday night.
While Saturday's championship match will likely produce another close call, Wednesday's goal-fest was all about allowing the Skyhawks' offense to blossom to near full capacity.
"It was a good feeling to get moving along," said sophomore Kortnee Hass, who scored two of Johnsburg's first three goals – all which came in a three-minute span just more than 10 minutes into the first half. "We wanted to come in and start off strong."
Once the scoring started, it didn't stop.
Hass and Delaney Pruitt scored on nearly identical shots, both sending high-arcing shots over the outstretched arms of Harvard goalkeeper Julissa Muralles. When Hass scored off a header, extending Johnsburg's lead to a comfortable 3-0 cushion, Harvard's mission of trying to keep pace with the Skyhawks became much more difficult.
"You've got to be able to respond when you give up a goal, " said Harvard coach David Abel said, whose team finished the season with a 3-13 record. "But they created their opportunities and they were able to take advantage of them and once that happened, the floodgates opened."
"But I give my girls credit. They didn't stop playing."
Neither did Johnsburg.
Olivia Jansen's goal with 9:29 remaining in the first half pushed the lead to 4-0. Johnsburg struck again only a minute into the second half on Shelby Weaver's goal, kickstarting a half that also included goals by Sarah Weaver and Abbie Ullrich.
And for possibly the first time this season, the Skyhawks learned what could happen when they didn't have to battle bigger players for 80 minutes.
"I think it shocked them a little bit," Johnsburg coach Rob Eastland said. "They saw how they could possess and knock the ball around a little bit and that settled their nerves a little bit."
The focus now shifts to Saturday's regional finals, when Johnsburg and R-B players accustomed to playing on the same club soccer teams will play for their right to keep playing. While the disappointment of past season-ending losses to the Rockets may linger, the Skyhawks also feel like they're moving into familiar territory, making Saturday's showdown an easy one to prepare for.
"We all know each other and so we're looking forward to [Saturday]," Jansen said. "But we're going to be ready for it."