STOW — They are a little more than 17 miles away from each other, so calling it a rivalry may be a bit of a stretch.
But it seems like something magical happens whenever the Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy and Aurora boys soccer teams meet on the pitch.
The magic and quality play continued as both powerhouse soccer programs met on a chilly, wet Saturday afternoon.
Let’s just say both teams are probably anxious to see each other again in a much more important matchup down the road.
For now, the talented squad from Wyoga Lake Road has the bragging rights.
Host CVCA improved to 5-3 in 2018 after posting a 3-2 victory over the Greenmen at Royals Stadium. Aurora, which saw its three-game winning streak come to an end, dropped to 5-2.
The two teams have played each other three times since the 2017 season. The Royals have won two of those contests.
However, the Greenmen defeated CVCA 4-3 in overtime during Division II district play fall at Royals Stadium. Aurora went on to reach the state semifinals.
"Our district is loaded," Royals head coach Angelo Finelli said. "Our district has Aurora, Revere, Woodridge, Orange and Chagrin Falls. We play a tough schedule. It’s good to play quality teams like Aurora. They’re a good rival."
Greenmen head coach Jason Bibza also doesn’t mind seeing his team go head to head with the state powerhouses. And very few teams can match the elite level of CVCA, which has won three state championships this millennium.
"CVCA is one of the best teams in the state," Bibza said. "We like to see the speed of play and teams like CVCA expose our mistakes. It gives us a good idea how to train and what we need to work on."
On this day, the Royals controlled the pace throughout the game.
Thanks to their topnotch speed, powerful shooting and ability to play through balls to open spaces, CVCA dominated possession.
In fact, it seemed like the Royals should have put the game away early.
CVCA had considerable advantages in shots on goal and in corner kicks. The Royals had two shots hit the post and two other shots hit the crossbar.
"We talked about finishing chances," Finelli said. "If you don’t finish your chances, you allow good teams like Aurora to stay in it. We knew Aurora wasn’t going to stop working."
Fortunately for CVCA, its offense never stopped attacking.
The Royals had all kinds of weapons who constantly put pressure on the Greenmen defense. But no one was more formidable than Zack Venus.
The standout senior got CVCA on the board halfway into the first half when he worked the ball down the sideline, made a move toward the middle and blasted a shot off the outstretched hands of Aurora sophomore goalkeeper Ethan Hoff and into the net. Senior Noah Irwin was credited with the assist.
Venus struck again a little more than 19 minutes into the second half.
After receiving a pass from junior Justin Luiza, Venus made a nifty move to beat a defender and then unloaded a hard shot into the right side of the goal.
The Greenmen, who chased the Royals all over the field for nearly 80 minutes, made the most of their precious few chances.
Aurora got on the board with a little less than 17 minutes remaining.
The Greenmen were awarded a penalty kick after a foul in the box and their leading scorer, senior Cooper Bizjak, cut CVCA’s advantage in half on a hard shot to the right side of the net.
But the Royals stayed in attack mode and gave themselves some breathing room a little more than two minutes later.
Luiza received a pass from Venus moments after a corner kick and finished with his left foot into the opposite side of the goal.
Senior Trevor Lazor made it a one-goal game when he received a pass from Bizjak and beat Royals’ goalie Isaiah Slabaugh on a breakaway with about four minutes left.
But the Greenmen didn’t present another serious challenge to CVCA’s defense the rest of the way.
While the Royals had their way in the first half, Aurora was able to neutralize CVCA a bit more in the second half. The Greenmen had the ball at their feet significantly more than they did in the first 40 minutes.
"If we keep possession and play it simple, we can be dangerous," Bibza said. "We’re more of a counterattack team, so we invite pressure."
Hoff finished with 10 saves.
Bibza can’t wait to see how good his team can really be. Aurora has been hit by the injury bug since the beginning of the season and hasn’t had its full lineup for what seems like forever.
"We were missing eight guys," Bibza said. "Some of them are going to be coming back soon."
Believe it or not, the Royals have several new faces on the roster this fall. As has been the case in the last two decades, CVCA has managed to reload rather than rebuild.
The Royals aren’t a finished product, according to Finelli. Such a fact could be downright frightening to the opposition when the postseason arrives.
"We have a talented group," Finelli said. "We just have to work together. We don’t look at three or four weeks from now. We want to continue to improve every day."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.