MACEDONIA — Jason Stepp may have had some mixed feelings after Wednesday’s postseason game.
Stepp, Nordonia’s fifth-year head boys soccer coach, is a staff coach for Cuyahoga Valley Soccer Academy, which works with players from Nordonia, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and North Royalton.
His pupils have learned quite well from the veteran head man. Unfortunately, for the Knights, those pupils wore white and red colors.
Eighth-seeded Nordonia’s season came to an end after losing to ninth-seeded Brecksville-Broadview Heights 3-0. The Solon Division I sectional semifinal contest took place Wednesday at Boliantz Stadium in Macedonia.
With the loss, the Knights, who defeated the Bees 3-0 earlier in the season, finished 6-6-5. Brecksville improved to 4-9-4 and earned a date with top-seeded Hudson in a sectional final contest Saturday at Hudson Memorial Stadium.
While Stepp was certainly disappointed to see his high school squad reach its premature conclusion, he couldn’t help but crack a smile.
Several of his prized students will report to work for his club program in the coming months. As for his other gifted pupils, they have a chance to compete for a sectional title.
Regardless, it was a win-win for Stepp. Sort of.
"The great thing we can take out of this is I coach all these kids in the offseason," Stepp said. "When I work six to eight months with the kid who [set up] the first goal and [scored] the last goal, it’s bittersweet."
That young man is Bees’ senior midfielder Aaron Harbaugh, who was all over the field on this night.
Harbaugh’s precise passing led to Brecksville’s first goal midway through the first half. The speedy playmaker decided to do the honors by himself late in the second half.
Stepp wasn’t the least bit surprised to see his club standout excel on the big stage. However, the Nordonia fifth-year coach was a bit caught off guard with Harbaugh’s location on the field.
"They [the Bees] made a tactical change," Stepp said. "They took their guy [Harbaugh] who played center mid all season and made them their center forward and he ran us down."
Thanks to a perfect pass from Harbaugh on the left side, freshman forward Nate Usrev got Brecksville on the board with a running header inside the Knights’ box with 16 minutes, 32 seconds left in the first half.
The Bees, who used the through ball to frustrate Nordonia’s defense throughout the evening, put it away after the break.
Junior forward Scott DiMassa, who eventually left the game after taking a shot to the face, made it 2-0 nearly 11 minutes into the second half after receiving a short pass from sophomore midfielder Vlad Grubnvak from the left side.
Grubnvak got the ball not long after a through ball was played out wide. DiMassa, who was located in the middle of Nordonia’s penalty box, gathered the ball at his feet and ripped a low line drive past Knights’ senior goalkeeper Zack Westbrooks.
Harbaugh delivered the backbreaker at the eight-minute mark.
Once again, a through ball played a role as freshman forward Attila Fulop smashed a pretty pass from deep in his own end toward the left side.
Harbaugh, running at full speed, caught up to Fulop’s pass in stride, took a few dribbles and blasted a shot into the net from less than 10 yards away.
Nordonia, which had a few players battling illness, did not have a single shot on goal.
"That had nothing to do with the outcome," Stepp said. "Their style was the better style with the wet ground."
The Knights got fairly deep in the Bees’ box on multiple occasions, but since Brecksville elected to play 10 defenders near its goal, Nordonia couldn’t generate any quality shots.
The Bees had a habit of deflecting kicks or forcing turnovers as multiple players swarmed Knight attackers moments after they settled the ball at their feet.
It could have been worse for Nordonia. Brecksville had four corner kicks in the first 40 minutes, including three in a row in about a minute-span late in the half.
The Knights, who had a winning regular-season record for the first time during Stepp’s tenure, said goodbye to seven seniors.
They are Westbrooks, midfielders Thomas Colombo, Jack Herberth, Izac Coleman, who played with flu-like symptoms, and Brenden Jackson, forward Owen Licht, who emerged as a full-time starter for the first time during the fall, and defender Josh Schneck.
"[They were] a really good group," Stepp said. "I think we have three or four guys who are going to play after the season."
Despite these losses, Stepp confidently believes his team can reload next year. It wouldn’t be wise to bet against him. Nordonia is loaded with underclassmen.
"Our sophomore class has been the driving force," Stepp said. "We have 20 sophomores, so the future is definitely bright."
Stepp certainly appreciated the major strides his team took this season. At the same time, though, another abrupt postseason ending wasn’t exactly what he had in mind.
"This is the first season since I’ve been here that we had been over .500 [in the regular season]," Stepp said. "Obviously, we hoped to get through this game. I think we expected to get a little bit further."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.