WEIRTON - The Weirton Madonna girls soccer team faces an uphill battle in Thursday's West Virginia Class AA-A Section 1 regional championship at Jimmy Carey Stadium.
But that's OK, because the Blue Dons have been at the base of the hill before.
It happened last Saturday.
CELEBRATION — Madonna soccer players, from left, Mia Antinone, Rachel Grubbs and Hannah Bargar celebrate their win over Weir High in the Region 1, Section 1 championship game on Oct. 26.
-- Mike Mathison
Madonna defeated rival Weir High, 2-0, at the Oak Glen Multi-Sports Complex to win the sectional championship for the first time in school history.
"I've never seen a group of girls so excited to come back to soccer practice on Monday," said head coach Bob Kolanko. "We are the only girls soccer team in the valley still practicing.
"There are less and less teams practicing each week and we are fortunate to be one of the few. And, the same can be said for the Oak Glen boys."
Fairmont Senior is 18-2-1 with its only losses coming to No. 3-ranked Sissonville and Brooke. It has not tasted defeat since that Brooke contest on Sept. 3.
"They are very aggressive," Kolanko said of the Polar Bears. "They like to attack the ball and are pretty physical."
The other blemish, if you want to call it that, on Fairmont Senior's record is a 3-3 deadlock to No. 1 Charleston Catholic on Oct. 12.
"Our girls are coming off a big high and the have to stay focused in practice and remember that game is over," said Kolanko. "We have to concentrate on the next one and all of our focus has to be on Fairmont Senior.
"They are very good. They like to push the ball up the side and bring it back across the middle."
The Polar Bears have won their last four games 26-0 and have collected 11 shutouts and held the opponent to one goal three other times.
"We designed out schedule this year to be a little easier at the front end to develop our younger players into their roles and to help Tessie (Tokash), since this is her first real year as goalie.
"Our schedule got tougher as we went along - playing teams like Weir, Brooke and Wheeling Central. Each game we learned from the previous game and taken what we learned into the next game.
"We are all learning what we have to do. We have to be aggressive and we have to be physical. We can't back down on the ball."
The victory over the Red Riders was the first for Madonna. Weir had defeated the Dons, 6-3, on Sept. 3.
After that, their next six losses were to Charleston Catholic, Edison, Beaver Local, Brooke twice and University.
"In the last two years we have changed the emphasis of the game and teaching the girls what they can accomplish playing the game the right way," said Kolanko. "Winning is fun, there's no doubt about that. But, when you are able to succeed, and that's not always about winning, but succeeding at what you're attempting to do, it makes the game fun and you want to learn more.
"Teams can go out and lose a game and learn a lot from it. It is said you learn more from a tough loss than from an easy victory. You apply what you learn from a tough loss and see improvement in the next game and our girls have bought into that.
"I think what we have done well over the past two years is improve the numbers and seeing what players 12, 13, 14 and 15 will do. You have to use those players to keep your players fresh. Last year everyone lettered and this year everyone will letter.
"Our seniors now got a lot of playing time as freshmen and sophomores and that helped them start to develop, and that's the same with the current junior class - they've played a lot of soccer. We also make sure we have as many JV games as possible because we want the girls getting touches on the ball and improving.
"We've told the girls a number of times that there is a game within the game. There might be 100 games and battles within a soccer match and those might be being challenged, making a pass, playing the angles and not to worry about the whole game, but win the majority of little battles you face.
"Eighty minutes of soccer is a lot of soccer."
Kolanko said there has been one major improvement recently.
"We have done a really good job the last four or five weeks of winning the 50-50 balls," said the coach. "When we played Weir the first time, they dominated the 50-50 and they won every challenge.
"We made it a strong emphasis from that day to not let the other team win the challenges and win the 50-50 balls.
"The other team may be better, but if you never challenge, then you can never win it."