While high school sports can be a wonderful way to show community support, get pumped up through the intensity of competition and root for the home team, there are times when moments prove to be far more important than the sport itself.
That proved to be the case for the West Holmes Lady Knights when they hosted the Dover Crimson Tornadoes in the girls high school soccer opener for each team on Saturday, Aug. 17 at West Holmes High School.
Trailing 1-0 with about 11 minutes to play in the first half, Dover went on the attack and fired off a shot that banged off of Lady Knights’ keep Morgan Stephenson. Stephenson deflected the ball to the left of the net and spun after it as several bodies collided.
What happened next is unclear, but as Meredith Lehman’s rebound shot spun up in the air and took a 90-degree turn into the net for a score, it appeared as though Stephenson slammed her lower back/hip into the post. She went down hard, writhing in agony, and was on the field for more than 20 minutes until she was carted off the field via ambulance.
The game continued. Lehman would go on to post two more goals for the hat trick, and Dover would turn a 3-2 game with seven minutes left to play into a 6-2 victory.
Following the game, new head coach Schuyler Jones said that while the final few minutes were not good, the way her team responded to the adversity of their teammate going down was extremely fulfilling.
“I think we were all very humbled after that,” Jones said. “They were all very concerned, and I think all of the girls saw the bigger picture. The girls actually stepped off the field, said a prayer for her right then and there, and that is very cool to see their focus on their teammate like that. All soccer went out the window for a teammate.”
The game itself was very spirited until the final seven minutes. Kerri Wagner gave the Lady Knights a leg up about 30 minutes into the half when she produced the season’s first goal. After Lehman’s score, Dover took control against a stunned West Holmes team, and Grace Smith and Corinne Hall both connected to give the Crimson Tornadoes a 3-1 half-time lead.
Mid-way through the second half, Wagner got loose on the left side, skirting through two defenders and smoking a shot past Dover keeper Drew Palmatier to trim the deficit to one at 3-2.
West Holmes quickly came back to life and began pressing toward an equalizer, and nearly got one when Taylor Dye roared down the right side and struck a beautiful, high-arching shot toward the goal. Palmatier rose and at the top of her leap was able to knock the ball straight up, recover and gather it, preventing the tie. Dye would again get a good look at the goal moments later, but Palmatier moved swiftly to her left and made another terrific save to keep Dover up by one.
“Drew did a great job of keeping us up,” Dover head coach Angie Pinyon said of her keeper’s clutch saves. “Those were clutch because they were pushing us right then.”
After several minutes of back-and-forth play, Lehman decided enough was enough and created a good shot for herself and drove it past back-up keeper Abi Rohr. Less than two minutes later, she took a beautiful through ball from Natalie Baker and smacked home her third goal, and Baker then collected one of her own with four minutes to play to finish off the flurry of Dover scores.
Lehman, a sophomore who played sparingly as a freshman, said starting the new season with a hat trick is something any player would cherish. “I think one of my goals was to earn more varsity playing time, and I really worked hard in the off-season to get better,” she said. “That was exciting and a good way to start.”
Pinyon said the expectations are high for her team, which has talent and experience, and the big thrust late was how she wants her team to finish.
“We are a talented team, but sometimes we need to be more mentally prepared from the start,” Pinyon said. “I don’t think the score was showing how we were dominating, but they were right there, and we needed to apply some pressure, and we came up big late.”
Pinyon said last year the team struggled to score consistently, so the six goals in the opener was encouraging, especially with the three when the game was on the line late.
As for West Holmes, Jones said there were reasons to be encouraged. “We gave ourselves a chance, but you have to give a round of applause to their keeper because she made two huge saves late,” she said.
Jones said they have spent a great deal of time talking about capitalizing on scoring opportunities, and she said when those types of chances come along, they have to turn into scores.
“We have talked at length about turning those into goals,” Jones said. “When we don’t capitalize, it comes back to bite you. After that first chance to tie, you could see the girls all turn this way, and they all realized that was a great chance for us. They were all processing the situation and were thinking about where they should have been without me verbalizing it for them, so that is a plus.”
As for the final seven minutes, Jones said even though it was hot, they were tired and thoughts of their fallen teammate remained, they can’t afford to lose their focus.
“That’s a mental game,” Jones said. “We can’t shutdown like that, but we learn from it, and we fix it for the future. I know they will work at that because nobody wants to go home like this. They saw that, and they know. They get better because of it.”