by BRYAN EVERSON
It’s hard to decipher what to focus on right now with Utica’s season as playoffs approach next week: the dark cloud, or the silver lining.
The good news in terms of results continued Wednesday afternoon with a 1-0 win as the Chieftains got in a full 80 minutes against Fraser before the actual clouds brought heavy rain over Swinehart Field.
On Senior Day, Liz Balaj got a gamewinning assist in her last regular-season match for Utica when she worked behind the defense and played a ball across the face of goal to Morgan Aho around the 55th minute.
“We really controlled the second half of the game,” Utica coach Dave Moran said.
The Chieftains finish pre-playoffs with a record of 11-6-4, and end up in third place in the MAC White with a division mark of 5-3-2, but compiled a 5- 1-3 record since the beginning of May. Unfortunately, they’ll head into the second season fragmented, as a non-soccer injury over the weekend to junior Skylar Gilbert only further inflated the size of the Chieftains’ infirmary.
“We’re decimated [by injuries] right now,” Moran said. “We’re down four starters from a couple weeks ago, and the next girl up was Skylar, so now technically five. We’ve lost about 60 percent of our goal-scoring for the season.”
Senior Maddy Motloch’s year is done with a torn ankle ligament, while the same may be said for Gilbert, dealing with a potential MCL sprain. Freshman wing Ari Jalics, who has played beyond her years, could return, but right now is day-to-day battling a knee issue.
“It’s going to be a tough one heading into districts, but the girls have battled,” Moran said.
“It hurts, but what can you do?”
Moran commended Victoria Rumin and Lyndsey Kunch for their play, as the freshman pair was called up from the JV squad to contribute in Wednesday’s win and in Monday’s scoreless draw against Romeo.
A tough task awaits at Troy Athens on Tuesday in the district quarterfinal against Ford, who finished tied for second in the MAC Red with just one loss in league play.
“You’ve got to assume it’s going to be a full load for us, and we’ve got to play our best,” Moran said. “We tied [Ford] 0-0 a few weeks ago, and I don’t have any doubt we can play with them, it’s just about playing consistent and creating opportunities.”
Eisenhower, meanwhile, defeated Stevenson 8-0 on Wednesday to win the MAC Red Championship, halting a twogame skid.
At Anchor Bay, Dakota will take on the host school in its district quarterfinal, and Chippewa Valley, who went 11- 1 in league play to claim the MAC Blue title, will travel to Port Huron Northern to face a Huskies team that they beat 2- 0 earlier this week.