PORTAGE | For 30 minutes on Thursday night, the Valparaiso girls soccer team looked nothing like the squad that beat Portage 8-0 last week.
The Vikings struggled to generate any offense against the Indians through most of the first half, but once Lauren Reineke found the back of the net in the 31st minute, the floodgates opened and Valparaiso advanced to the sectional title game with a 7-1 victory over Portage.
Valparaiso will play Chesterton in the championship game after the Trojans knocked off Hobart 10-0 in the opener.
"It just took some time for us to get used to the speed of play on the turf," Valparaiso senior Kate Johnson said. "After about 10 or 15 minutes, we were able to figure it out and we just got on a roll."
Johnson had three goals for the Vikings (13-3) and Andrea Violanti added two scores, but Valparaiso coach Rob Cespedes was nervous a bit at the start.
"Just a little bit of jitters when you're in the environment of being in the tournament for the first game," Cespedes said. "We just needed to get the feel and then we got more confident."
The Vikings carried a 3-0 lead into the half, but Portage junior Nicki Monahan cut into the deficit with a deep goal from nearly 25 yards away from the box. Johnson responded three minutes later and Portage never threatened to score again.
The Indians entered the game with heavy hearts as much of the team attended a wake for Andrean graduate Renee Ohrn after the Indiana University student was killed in a house fire in Bloomington on Saturday. Ohrn's death comes on the heels of the murder of 2011 Portage graduate Amanda Bach and both females were on the mind of the Portage soccer team on Thursday night.
"My girls have dealt with so much this season and they've shown a lot about character," Portage coach Amanda Isakson said. "It's hard to talk to them about soccer on a day like today. I'm so proud of my girls and sometimes it's more about life."
The Trojans (14-3) scored early and often against Hobart and left little doubt that they would earn a chance to play for the sectional title. Chesterton knocked off Valparaiso 2-1 in the third game of the season and the two teams finished in a three-way tie for the Duneland Athletic Conference title with Crown Point.
Ciera Brown had three goals to lead the Trojans while Rosie Biehl, Nicki Kollar and Sam Furto added two goals apiece.
"We had a great season and they had a great season as well, but you throw that all out now," Chesterton coach David Galloway said. "It's going to be a competitive match."