It’s been seven years since the Hiland Lady Hawks soccer team has defeated the West Holmes Lady Knights, but on Thursday, Sept. 13 at West Holmes High School, Hiland put an end to that losing streak by shutting out West Holmes 3-0.
The two teams came into the contest heading in different directions, Hiland now sporting a three-game winning streak and a sparkling 5-1 record while West Holmes dropped five straight in falling to 2-6.
But this game was as much about Hiland’s defense, which has limited opposing teams to one single tally this season. While West Holmes presented a strong challenge for the Hiland defense, especially in the first half, the Lady Hawks were able to stand strong in posting the team’s fifth shut-out in six games.
“Some more gray hair tonight, but the first message we talk about every game is working to get a shut-out,” Hiland head coach Conner Lee said. “If we keep playing defense the way we have, we are going to be successful, and tonight I thought our defense made some nice adjustments and stepped up again, some bend-but-don’t-break defense, and that is sometimes what it takes.”
Following a Gabby Schlabach score off an assist from Taryn Schlabach just six minutes into the contest that gave the Lady Hawks a 1-0 advantage, it looked like Hiland might control the tempo, but for the final 30 minutes of the first half, it was the Lady Knights who took over the control of the ball and began forcing the issue. Kerri Wagner scorched a low shot to the lower-right corner that Hiland keeper Kendra Shetler made a nice stop on, and several minutes later Taylor Dye got a great look and hammered a shot into the side net on the right side, and the Lady Knights were pressing Hiland’s defense.
“We came right out and scored, and then West Holmes got fired up and came right back at us, and we were on our heels the entire rest of the first half,” Lee said. “They really did a nice job of pressuring us on our end.”
With 17 minutes to play in the half, Wagner got off a sensational shot on goal that Shetler dropped down to her left to snare, again keeping the Lady Knights off the scoreboard.
Through the first half West Holmes got off eight shots on goal to Hiland’s five, four of those shots coming off the foot of the dangerous Wagner, but Hiland maintained its 1-0 lead at the intermission.
“It was actually a strong half for us, but regardless of how we played the first half, it doesn’t matter if we can’t connect 80 minutes, and we didn’t do that tonight,” West Holmes head coach Schuyler Jones said.
After a spirited first half of action, the two teams came back out in the second half with full intentions of duplicating that type of play.
In the game’s 57th minute, Greta Mast found some space off a nifty pass from Mia Gertz and rocked home her very first varsity goal for a 2-0 Hiland lead.
Lee said the magnitude of that goal can’t be overstated.
“We felt that the team who scored first in the second half was going to win this game, and the girls knew that, and we came out hard and got a big score from Greta,” Lee said. “The message at the half was that we needed to come out with a big push early to try to extend the lead, and the girls came through.”
It almost got close in a hurry, however, as less than one minute later West Holmes’ Liberty Arnold scorched a line drive shot just over the top of goal. She nearly drew the Lady Knights back to within a goal, but it was not to be, and the Lady Hawks maintained the 2-0 edge. The score remained that way until 20 minutes left to play when Mast again lit up the scoreboard to make it 3-0, and it was once again Gertz who would set her up for the score with some nice maneuvering through several defenders.
“It feels great to contribute like this in a big game, especially since those were my first two varsity goals,” Mast said. “They are a good team, so we tried to stay focused and keep the ball moving quickly to keep them moving.”
From there Hiland’s staunch defense continued to keep the Lady Knights out of the net as keeper Abby Beach and the Lady Hawk’s back line of defense made sure there was no late comebacks bid.
“We did some nice things in the first half, but we got lazy,” Jones said. “It is a team sport, and you still have to produce the whole 80 minutes. When we fell behind by two goals, we got lazy, and at that point it is just a matter of battling back and fighting through with mental toughness. I can’t punch that into the kids. I can’t yell it into them. It’s a matter of wanting it, and we didn’t want it bad enough in the second half tonight.”
On the night the Lady Knights actually outshot the Lady Hawks 19-17 and produced three corner kicks to Hiland’s two.
Shetler produced nine stops in net in the first half for Hiland while Beach racked up 10 in the second half and exhibited a big punting leg as she consistently mashed high, booming punts out past midfield. Lady Knights keeper Abigail Rohr produced nine stops in goal.