Heading into this season, there was no question that the Eastbrook Panthers girls soccer team have all of the ingredients needed for a state championship run.
They have an all-around superstar in Sarah Foulk who is as humble as she is talented.
They have an incredible supporting cast in Johwen McKim, Chloe McDaniel, Naomi Diller, and Natalie Lakanen, to name a few, who make Eastbrook’s offense incredibly dangerous and effective.
They have a skilled and dynamic back line in Shauna Singer, Grace Brown, and Riya Patel, one that makes minimal mistakes and keeps opposing offenses under wraps on a consistent basis.
They have a staunch junior goalkeeper in Gabby Scott, who has given up just 26 goals in the past two seasons and who has made huge saves in critical situations time and time again.
And lastly, they have an incredible head coach in Jamie Hallis, who in two short years has turned this team into a title contender.
On Saturday evening in the Sectional 39 sectional final, the Panthers completed the first step in their state championship journey, winning their third straight sectional title with a 6-0 triumph over the Wabash Apaches.
Much like their game in the sectional last year, the Apaches played in a more defensive formation, putting nine players in the box to help limit the Panthers’ opportunities.
For the most part in the first half, it worked. They played solid defense on Foulk, and they did not allow many scoring opportunities. However, the Panthers were able to score early, as McDaniel scored off a Foulk corner kick just over three minutes to take a 1-0 lead.
At halftime, however, the Panthers made adjustments, and it led to a scoring barrage in the final 40 minutes.
“In the first half, I kept telling our outside backs to push up. For some reason, they did not want too,” Hallis said. “But in the second half, they started pushing up. They started pulling [Wabash] out better and opened them up a lot.”
It took less than seven minutes for the Panthers to find the back of the net, and once they did, the floodgates opened.
Foulk’s first goal came at the 33:47 mark after she dribbled through multiple Wabash defenders and blasted the ball to the lower right corner of the net.
Just over two minutes later, Delani Pattison scored her first of the playoffs to make it 3-0.
Eastbrook continued to dominate possession, along with scoring goals. Johwen McKim made it 4-0 with 26:16 remaining off another corner kick from Foulk, before Foulk increased Eastbrook’s lead to five just over two minutes later with a rising shot from 15 yards away.
Lakanen capped off the scoring with 21:12 left to play on another assist from Foulk.
“She’s a playmaker, whether she is scoring or [not,] Hallis said. “For the chunk of the game, she wasn’t even looking to score. I felt like she was really watching for passing opportunities tonight, and we had a whole bunch of other girls score tonight because she is always looking for that perfect pass or that perfect through ball.”
In all, the Panthers scored five goals in the first 18:48 of the second half.
“The first half, we came out and played well, but I wouldn’t say we played our best,” Foulk said. “It was kind of slow and it took a while. Manchester didn’t pack it in on us, and it was a big transition. They had nine people in the box most of the time, so we had to get used to that.
“But in the second half, I think we definitely started taking outside shots and connecting better. We connected quicker. Once you score one, it’s easier to keep scoring, and we go off that.”
After recording one assist in the first half, Foulk finished with two goals and two assists in the second.
“I had more movement off the ball,” Foulk said. “In the first half, I was struggling a bit. I was in my head. I thought I was playing lazy and slow. I wasn’t really proud of how I played. But in the second half, I was focused on wanting to move, so I think that helped.”
Armed with a six-goal lead, the Eastbrook defense closed it out. They kept Wabash from advancing up the pitch, and continued to keep the ball in the offensive zone.
The offense dazzled, recording 24 shots in the contest, while the defense held the Apaches without a single attempt.
“Our back line was just awesome,” Hallis said. “They even stepped up and helped on offense. They were completely under control. In the last two games, we’ve been passing it back and using our defense to help start our offense, which we have always been capable of. It’s just fun to watch when they do that.”
“It’s so nice to have people we can drop it too,” Foulk added. “I think a lot of teams lack that, and it adds another dimension. Teams are forced to pull out and guard them. They’re so fast, so even if there is a through ball played, I’m not worried about it.”
While the Panthers are happy with another sectional title, they know that there are more games to play and tougher teams ahead.
But if there is any team that can make a deep run, it’s Eastbrook, and they are ready for the challenge.
“We have a lot of good teams in our regional,” Hallis said. “I think we are going to be focused on the little things that add up to beautiful soccer – the first touch, the good pass, and really working out what we want our offense to look like.”