ABERDEEN - For the second consecutive year, Elma was an unhappy witness to a Meridian passing clinic in the first round of the Class 1A State Girls' Soccer Playoffs.
The Trojans demonstrated outstanding ball control in downing the Eagles, 3-0, on Wednesday, Nov. 13, at Aberdeen's Stewart Field.
Meridian (16-4-2) will host a state quarterfinal this weekend. District IV champion Elma concluded its season with a 17-3 record.
"They made us work for this one, which was good," Meridian coach Andrea Ames said in a phone interview. "But we want that challenge in the first round."
The Eagles had a handful of scoring chances. For the most part, however, they were playing defense as the Trojans (who had also eliminated Elma from state last year) used crisp passing to maintain possession for perhaps 70 percent of the contest. Meridian owned a 14-5 advantage in on-target shots.
"That's our style of play," Ames said. "We have a lot of speed and we use our speed, knock the ball around and find the seams."
"I can't take anything away from Meridian, they're a great team," Elma coach Chris Schumacher agreed.
Meridian's domination of time of possession was particularly pronounced in the first 20 minutes. Oddly, given the tenor of the match, the visitors' opening goal didn't involve a pass.
Trojan forward Lexi McKinnon stole the ball from an Eagle defender and rocketed a perfectly placed 25-yard shot over the head of goalkeeper Alyssa Sutherby and into the roof of the net in the sixth minute.
"It was just a hustle play," said Ames of McKinnon's opening goal.
The Eagles nearly equalized two minutes later on one of their rare early thrusts.
Senior forward Sydney Smythe turned and dropped a pass back to teammate Brooke Goldsmith. The latter fired from about 18 yards out, but freshman goalkeeper Sydney Gospodinovich made a diving save.
Goldsmith rattled another shot off the crossbar in the 30th minute and her rebound attempt sailed over the top of the net.
It remained 1-0 until the 46th minute when Sutherby came out of the goal in a vain attempt to pick up a loose ball, and Meridian's Haley Belanger slid a pass to senior midfielder Taylor Lunde, who tapped it into an empty net.
Belanger concluded the scoring 10 minutes later on a one-and-one run against Sutherby.
The Trojans' ability to get scoring from multiple people was something Ames was particularly happy to see.
"You can shut one player down. That's fine," Ames said. "Someone else can take over the game."
Elma only had a couple of decent second-half chances. Smythe launched a long on-target shot with about four minutes remaining, but Gospodinovich stretched to gather it in.
The Trojans also had a shot go off the crossbar from Lunde in the third minute. Elma freshman defender Dallas Trusty blocked another first-half shot that appeared destined for the corner of the net.
Elma defender Maddie Newberry was helped off the field late in the first half with a leg injury and was visibly slowed in a brief return to action after intermission.
The contest marked the career finalés for the eight Elma seniors - Goldsmith, Smythe, Sutherby, Hannah Heelan, Maddie and Mackenzie Miller, Alyx Marsh and Lexie Whipple - who played a role in the team's first-ever district championship.
MERIDIAN 3, ELMA 0
Goal: Lexi McKinnon (Meridian), assist NA: time: 6:00; Goal: Taylor Lunde (Meridian), assist Haley Belanger: time: 46:00; Goal: Haley Belanger (Meridian), assist Janessa Murphy: time: 56:00. Shots on goal: Meridian 18; Elma 5. Goalies (saves) Meridian: Sydney Gospodinovich (3); Elma: Alyssa Futhearby (11).