But facing what has been the premier program in the Sandusky Bay Conference for several years, an inexperienced Norwalk team was no match for visiting Oak Harbor in Saturday’s season opener.
Norwalk (0-1) allowed three goals in a 3:55 span of the first half in a 6-0 loss at the Norwalk Soccer Complex.
The Rockets (1-0) advanced to the state semifinals in 2013, won another district title in 2015, and lost in a district final in 2016. Oak Harbor has strung together multiple league championships in that same stretch.
“”That’s a tough matchup for an opener,” Norwalk coach Michelle Sandor said. “I wasn’t sure how we were going to end up against them — but they have a nice team again, and their keeper made a lot of nice stops.”
After winning a Division II sectional championship and the SBC Lake division title a year ago — the first in program history — Norwalk has just three seniors on the roster in 2018.
Conversely, there are nine sophomores and four freshmen on the 17-player roster.
“It’s a new year, a different team that is playing different,” Sandor said. “We are just a young, inexperienced team right now.”
Oak Harbor opened the scoring with a goal by Kennedee Weirich at the 27:45 mark of the first half — the first in the three-goal flurry against Norwalk sophomore goalkeeper Makaila White — playing soccer for the first time.
Just 1:49 later, Marna Winterfield scored at the 25:56 mark, and again just 2:06 later for the quick 3-0 lead. The Rockets’ Erica Winters closed the first-half scoring with a goal at the 6:33 mark.
At the other end, Norwalk was getting plenty of opportunities, but were turned away each time by the Oak Harbor defense — notably senior keeper Ronni Hartlage.
At 5-feet-10, Hartlage was able to turn away the Truckers throughout the match.
In the second half alone, Norwalk sophomore Gwen Olcott was stopped twice — while shots on goal by Coley Branum, Nyah Daniels and Kara Mosser were either wide, or denied by Hartlage.
“Obviously her height is huge, so the corners are easier for her,” Oak Harbor coach Renee Williamson said of Hartlage. “Thankfully in the time she did get out and beat, our defense was back there to cover for her.”
The Rockets closed out scoring in the second half with goals by Haley Lenke and Hannah Schulte with under 10 minutes to go.
“A lot of their goals came off of our mistakes, and we were able to get a lot of opportunities,” Sandor said. “A lot of the freshmen coming in are going to bring us a lot of goals in the future, and a lot more offense.
“But they’re young and have a lot of learning to do,” she added. “But it’s a great group of girls that has been working together, and I think we’ll keep improving.”
Norwalk won’t have long to dwell or recover from Saturday’s loss. The team travels to Port Clinton for a 5 p.m. match on Monday.
“We need to get some offense generated,” Sandor said. “Not much time to prepare between now and then, so I’m hoping it’s more evenly-matched, and it won’t feel like we’re defending the entire game.
“We want to play our game, work on our system a little bit and keep developing from there,” she added.