CELINA – Celina is carving out a piece of soccer history.
For the sixth time ever, a boys soccer team from the area has reached the state semifinals.
And now, the Bulldogs want more.
Celina (20-1), which has won 20 in a row, will meet Richfield Revere (15-3-3) in the Division II boys soccer state semifinals at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Tiffin Columbian High School’s Frost-Kalnow Stadium.
With a win, Celina would play in the state championship match on Sunday at Columbus Crew MAPFRE Stadium.
“We would love to play there,” Celina goalkeeper Aden Gariety said.
Added Celina forward Brennen Piper, “This is what it’s all about. This is a dream come true.”
Only five other boys soccer teams from the Lima area have reached the state semifinals, including Kalida twice. The last one to do it was Fort Jennings in 2004.
The state teams were the following: Fort Jennings (2004), Kalida (2002), Shawnee (2001), Kalida (2001) and Ottawa-Glandorf (1998).
None of those teams won a state semifinal game and advanced to the championship match.
“Northwest Ohio has good soccer, but our WBL (Western Buckeye League) has run into Bay the last few years,” Celina coach Ryan Jenkins said. “We’ve been knocking at the door, but we’re the first WBL team to make it since 2001. Hopefully, we start a tradition where the WBL can continue to get there. It’s a great accomplishment for the guys.”
Celina defeated Oak Harbor 4-1 in the regional finals on Saturday. Oak Harbor knocked off Bay in the regional semifinals.
Revere is making its seventh trip to state. It won the state championship in 2013.
Revere defeated Mentor Lake Catholic 2-0 in the regional finals. Junior Zack Kasson scored both goals for Revere. Revere goalkeeper Charlie Fink had a total of 15 saves in his two regional shutouts.
“They have a lot of history and have been to this point before,” Jenkins said. “I’m sure they have a good possession game.”
Celina starts nine seniors, including three-year starters forward Piper and midfielder Payton Smalley.
Four-year lettermen include Piper, Smalley, defender Luke Hone, midfielder Garrett Weininger and midfielder Jarren Casto.
And not only is this a veteran team, it comes packed with tournament experience.
When this senior group was sophomores, it went 15-3-3, finished second in the WBL and advanced to the regional finals before falling to Bay, 3-0.
“You could see the great amount of potential they had that year,” Jenkins said.
Last year Celina went 14-5, again finished second in the WBL and lost to Elida in the district finals.
Jenkins feels that loss to Elida set the tone for the offseason.
“I think it helped that we didn’t get to the goals we got the year before,” Jenkins said. “Another part is they are seniors and have played together for so long. Some of them, all they do is play soccer. They worked even harder this year. That’s what drives them. It’s their senior year and this is it.”
So with a definite edge, the Bulldogs opened the year against Division I Findlay. Celina led 2-0 at the half, but fell 3-2.
The Bulldogs haven’t lost since, including winning the WBL title with a 9-0 record.
“We battled them, but we couldn’t finish it out,” Jenkins said of the Findlay match. I wasn’t sure how they would react after that, but they had a pretty good reaction.”
Celina went on to set a school record with 20 wins.
Casto leads the Bulldogs in goals with 27 and also has 10 assists.
Piper, the WBL player of the year, has 20 goals and attracts plenty of attention from opposing defenses with his quickness and slick array of moves.
Weininger has nine goals, while Smalley has eight goals. Smalley leads the team in assists with 11.
Gariety is a senior, but is a first-year starter. Gariety has been solid throughout the tournament, including making seven saves in the regional-finals win.
On the year, Gariety is 20-1 with 11 shutouts. He has 65 saves and a goals-against average of 0.78.
As a team, Celina has scored 92 goals and given up 16.
Overall, the key to the Bulldogs’ possession and passing game has been the excellent play of the midfield with outside midfielders Weininger and Casto and inside midfielders Smalley and Austin Hines.
Smalley usually is the attacking midfielder and Hines is the defensive midfielder. But the two often switch and play the other spot, as well.
Casto and Smalley were first team all-WBL, while Hines and Weininger were named second team.
“We have four seniors in the midfield,” Jenkins said. “They’ve played a lot together. Austin (Hines) and Payton (Smalley) were in the middle last year. Jarren (Casto) can beat defenders one-on-one and we can attack from both sides of the field.”
The defensive group is led by junior sweeper Kyle Flaute. The other defenders are Austin Hanes, Conner Mills and Hone.
Behind them is Gariety in goal. Flaute and Gariety were both third team all-WBL.
“Aden (Gariety) has stepped up big,” Jenkins said. “He’s waited his chance and done a great job with it.”
Up front are forwards Piper and Reid Cox.
Being a senior-heavy team that reached the regional finals two years ago, one might think this team played with pressure throughout the tournament.
Jenkins said that’s not so.
“I don’t know if they know what pressure is,” Jenkins said. “It’s a pretty laid-back group. They like to go out and play. They’ve had big games this year, but by looking at them, you wouldn’t know it’s a big game. They like to have fun.’’