Gretna saw three starters suffer injuries in the first half of the Class A state semifinals against Marian Saturday.
The Dragons lost to the Crusaders 3-1 to end their first season in Class A with a 14-4 record.
“There’s a saying, ‘You either win or you learn’ and I think we were sort of upset last year in the first round. So we learned from that and we will use this down the road as a learning curve,” Gretna coach Digger Hawkins said. “I thought the girls were tremendous. They gave it everything they got.
The Dragons lost to Marian 2-1 in the beginning of April and were hoping for redemption before the trio of injuries hit. Gretna felt like they were the better team both times.
“I’ll be honest with you. Even though the scoreline says 3-1 and we lost those three players early, I thought we were the better team and I did throughout the season,” Hawkins said. “It goes to show the strength of our squad.”
Gretna goalie Abbie Cogrove, who tallied six saves, and the defenders fought mightily through the Marian offensive pressure for most of the game. The Dragons moved up their attack in the second half to create more offensive pressure only two defenders in the back protecting Cogrove and the net.
“We knew were going to have to give up some chances,” Hawkins said.
Possession was pretty even between Gretna and Marian to start the game with a few shots on goal. Leading scorer Sarah Weber left the game with an injury in the ninth minute after colliding heads with a Crusader. The sophomore was replaced with Chaley French, who came up with a solid shot on goal in the 14th minute to set up a Gretna corner, which failed to net a goal.
A minute later, Gretna’s Savannah De Fini came from the left side for a shot that flew just to the left of the goal.
Minutes later, Gretna’s Savannah Andrews went down with a upper body injury to keep her out of the game. The freshman had five goals in her last six games.
In the last 10 minutes of the first half, Carly Zabloudil was hit with a lower body injury colliding with a Crusader. The junior tallied 29 points this season.
“It’s tough because the girls worked their absolute socks off and to be honest, I feel like we deserve to be in the state final,” Hawkins said. “But that’s the game of soccer. We didn’t get much protection, but that’s the way it goes.”
The back and forth half shifted with five seconds left, when Marian scored off a rebound to take a 1-0 lead into the half.
The Crusaders out-shot the Dragons 5-2 in the first half. Hawkins took the time during halftime letting the team know, they’ve been on this road before, even if they didn’t realize it.
The Dragons lost five players before the season, including two with injury and one that went to the Sporting Omaha FC’s Developmental Academy.
“To be honest, when those three went down at halftime, I did say we faced some adversity. Before the season, we lost five important players. So that’s what I said to them at halftime,” Hawkins said.
Five minutes into the second half, French found an open shot but the one hopper was picked up by Marian.
The Crusaders added an insurance goal in the 60th minute. A kick into the box led to a header and then to another header for a goal to lead 2-0.
After putting an offensive attack together in the last half of the second half, Gretna tagged a goal from Marissa Ellingson from about 20 yards out to cut the Marian lead to 2-1 with seven minutes remaining.
The senior, usually a defender, moved up in the Dragon attack to provide more offensive power.
“She’s been a four-year starter. She’s had a bit of an indifferent season. In the club season towards the end, she broke her collarbone,” Hawkins said. “It’s natural she lost a little bit of confidence with that.
“But I know she can play different positions. She’s got a sweet left foot, so I just moved her up there to give us something different. We went four up and credit to her, I thought she was brilliant on Thursday and today she put in another good performance.”
With Gretna only holding two defenders back, Marian answered back a minute later with a goal to extend its lead to 3-1 and, eventually, seal the victory.
“Every single player on this squad from one to however many we have, like 50, they’ve given it everything they got,” Hawkins said. “Every single player has got better. It’s been a good year, so I’m proud of the girls.”