HUDSON — Considering it went 5-11 last year and won just three matches in the Northeast Ohio Field Hockey League, the 2018 season was definitely a success for the Western Reserve Academy field hockey team.
But the Pioneers are still looking to get a signature win against a certain nextdoor neighbor.
Reserve certainly proved to be a formidable opponent.
In the end, though, the top team in Northeast Ohio still had enough to take down its backyard rival.
Hudson improved to 11-3 overall and 10-0 in the NEOFHL after earning a 3-1 victory over host WRA Wednesday.
The Pioneers, which posted a 3-1 win over host Stow-Munroe Falls Monday, finished 8-6-1 overall and 6-5-1 in the league.
The Explorers got on the board less than six minutes into the match before Reserve tied things up a little more than a minute later.
Hudson took the lead for a good with another goal a couple minutes later and added an insurance goal in the second half.
"I thought they played very well," Explorers’ first-year head coach Louise Knox said of the Pioneers. "I thought they had several strong players that when they connected, they were purposeful. They played the middle strong."
WRA made things extremely difficult in the middle as several of its defensive players had a knack for getting a stick on shots by Hudson.
The Pioneers also had a dynamic offensive player who left many Explorers on their heels whenever she got the ball.
And the best thing about it for Reserve is this: She’s just a sophomore.
Delia Rabatin, the team’s leading scorer, got WRA’s lone goal on a long hit from the left side after a penalty corner by junior Nadia Konovalchik.
Rabatin also had a number of fast-break opportunities that allowed her to use her stellar stick skills to beat several Hudson defenders.
"She's amazing," Pioneers’ second-year head coach Kelsey Closen said. "She makes it look so effortless. I feel like I even learn from her. She has definitely gotten more comfortable in her playing and her leadership.
"Even though she is a sophomore, she's still very vocal on the field. We play through her a lot. She does a lot of our corners and hits. I personally think Delia is one of the best field hockey players to come through Reserve."
In the end, the Explorers had a bit more firepower.
Senior forward Lilly Knox got Hudson on the board when she finished moments after a penalty corner by senior forward Grace Hildebrand.
Sophomore forward Hanna Killeen, who also showed some fancy stick work on fast breaks, made it 2-1 Explorers when she scored from the right side off a pass to the middle by Hildebrand.
Junior midfielder Reese Stiller scored the final goal with a little more than 11 minutes into the second half to make it 3-1.
"We tried to adjust and stretch the field," Knox said. "We were successful at times and sometimes, we were not successful. The girls are taught to keep fighting."
Closen will take her team’s performance. When it’s all said and done, Hudson could be playing in the state semifinals down the road.
"I think they did amazing," Closen said. "As long as I've been coaching, I don't think we've had that close of a score against them (the Explorers). They definitely improved a lot since the beginning of the season. Having them as our last game is always fun."
Hudson, which has had WRA’s number in recent years, usually have the edge when it comes to depth.
Unfortunately for the Pioneers, the Explorers’ depth advantage was particularly lopsided Wednesday.
"We have a small group," Closen said. "Injury-wise, we had to play a man down the whole game. They came together, which is pretty amazing to see."
Hudson had a 13-4 advantage in shots on goal and a 6-4 edge in penalty corners.
Junior goaltender Sadie Mrakuzic finished with four saves for the Explorers. Reserve freshman goalie Joella Nagy stopped 10 shots.
Hudson can clinch the NEOFHL championship all to themselves Saturday. They are set to visit Ottawa Hills and Maumee Valley Country Day in Toledo.
The Explorers also received the top seed at the Gates Mills Division I district tournament.
Hudson earned a first-round bye. The Explorers are scheduled to host the Stow-Munroe Falls-Kent Roosevelt winner in a second-round contest Oct. 17 at 6 p.m.
Shaker Heights earned the second seed and Rocky River Magnificat and Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown got the third and fourth seeds, respectively.
"We're excited," Knox said. "We worked hard all off-season and preseason to fight for every game we play.
"We're always learning. Every game, we're still continuing to improve. You might strengthen one skill and then you have to sharpen another one."
WRA said goodbye to seniors Camille Wepler, Kendall Coleman, Jen Blossom, Abigail Richardson, Kyra Bradley and Brooke Barsella.
"Once again, we're graduating a big class and a really great class," Closen said. "We have a winning record, which is great.
"Mags (1-1 draw against Magnificat Sept. 18 in Rocky River) was another one that was probably our best game of the season. We had a great streak going and then we started playing harder teams. "
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org.