OV girls’ soccer ties victory mark
BRANDON — The Otter Valley Union High School girls’ soccer team on Monday survived a slow start and strong second-half pressure from visiting Leland & Gray to earn a 3-2 victory and a small piece of history.
The result pushed the Otters to 7-3 and tied the 2005 team’s program record for regular-season victories — an accomplishment that comes just one year after a winless season.
Senior midfielder Isabelle Kingsley, whose two goals helped the Otters recover from an early, 2-0 hole, said what happened between the end of the 2014 season and beginning of this season sparked the turnaround.
“It’s the offseason work every one of us puts in. Our coaches give all their free time. We play in the summer, we play in the winter. We practice in the summer, we practice in the winter,” Kingsley said. “It’s just the time we put in in the offseason.”
Coach Rick Hedding, in his second year leading the program, agreed. Many Otters play for club teams during the spring and summer, and many who didn’t do that did show up at open gyms that he and his assistants offered.
Also, Hedding said, the team has continued to work hard, and the team has veterans who have improved, individually and collectively.
“It’s just a great team. They work hard in practices,” Hedding said. “They’re a little bit older, a little bit stronger, and they’re really understanding what we’re working on as a program here.”
It took a while for the Otters to show their quality on Monday, in part because key central defender Jillian Flanders sat the first 11 minutes after missing the team’s previous practice because she was ill.
Hedding said the program has a rule that players who miss a practice must sit the beginning of the team’s next game.
“It’s not a punishment. It’s a reward for kids who show up to practice,” he said. “And she was sick yesterday.”
And Leland & Gray, competitive despite its 3-7-1 record, took advantage with two quick goals. It could have been three, but OV sophomore goalie Gabriela Poalino (six saves) stopped Hannah Buffum’s drive in the second minute.
But at 36:08 Buffum served from the left side to Jessie Stockwell cutting into the box. She stepped around a defender and tapped the ball inside the right post. At 34:26, Stockwell broke past two Otters outside the box and drilled an 18-yard bomb into the left corner.
The Rebels earned two corner kicks shortly afterward that caused anxious moments, but 11 minutes in Hedding sent in Flanders and the tone of the game changed. Hedding said her presence probably gave OV a lift.
“She solidifies our defense, definitely. They all work hard, but she’s very strong in the middle,” he said. “They all know that Jillian is a great defender and a big part of the team.”
Flanders almost immediately sent junior forward Olivia Drew into the left side of the L&G box, and Drew’s shot tested Rebel goalie Anna Jutrus (three saves). Jutrus soon afterward had to come out to beat Drew to the ball.
Poalino also began to roam off her line effectively, breaking up bids by Ashley Bates and Mackenzie Boyle, and Flanders blocked a Rebel free kick.
The ball began to move the other way, and OV middie Julia Lee and forward Colby Reynolds created chances before the Otters broke through at 3:07. Drew carried across the penalty area, drew a foul, and drilled home the following penalty kick.
OV then came out strong in the second half. At 35:28, Drew lofted a perfect ball from the right side for Kingsley to run onto and walk into the goal.
At 31:45, junior middie Abby Tinkowski sent Kingsley behind the defense with a pinpoint diagonal pass from the right side. Kingsley tapped the ball past Jutrus into the lower right corner.
Kingsley credited the passes for both goals and coaching from assistant Courtney Hoyt for her first score.
“Coach Hoyt has been working with us in practice and telling us to run through it with our bodies, so that’s just what I did,” Kingsley said. “And the second one, oh my gosh, it was crazy, the goalie came out and I just poked it with my toe, and it went in.”
But the Rebels began to take control again, and the defense, particularly Flanders and senior Shana Houle in the middle, and Poalino had to work hard to keep L&G at bay. The Rebels launched eight shots and Poalino made four saves in the second half, a total that would have been higher if she had not often come out of her goal to break up plays, once roaming 35 yards from the net.
“I’ve always told her as long as she makes a decision I will never be upset,” said Hedding.
The OV defense also forced close to a dozen offside calls. Kingsley said the defense is one reason the team is so confident.
“I think we have the strongest defensive line in the division. We get teams offsides when they don’t even know it’s coming, and our offense, if we get the ball to our offense, we’re just on fire,” she said. “So I think we’re going to have a state title.”
One reason the Rebels came on so strong is OV is shorthanded. Hedding said senior midfielder Lexi Hedding is beginning her return protocol from concussion-like symptoms, while senior defender Hannah Williams’s status is uncertain with a knee injury. On Monday, senior midfielder Amy Jones was cleared to play on a sore knee, but other than a short stint did not feel comfortable enough to take the field.
But maybe other attributes Kingsley cited can overcome that issue.
“We work well together as a team, and we feed off each others’ energy, and we keep a positive energy all the time,” she said. “We just get it done.”