A team is defined as “a group of players comprising one side of a competition”.
That may have been good enough for Webster, but anyone who has played a sport will tell you that it takes more than matching uniforms to make a team; it takes a common goal and the drive to reach that goal. Perhaps most importantly, it takes all of the players working together. Teams strive to reach this level of play, and the Athens Bulldogs showed a glimmer of that teamwork on Thursday in their 1-0 win over Circleville.
Sophomore Angela Owens’ view of the game reflected what many of the fans in the stands also felt, she stated, “We played as a team, and the passing in the midfield helped us create more opportunities to get to the goal.”
The Bulldog midfield and frontline were definitely communicating tonight as they controlled the ball, consistently pushing deep into Tiger territory, only to be shut down in the final seconds by the Circleville defensive line. Throughout the first half of the game, the ball spent the majority of the minutes in Tiger turf, occasionally crossing over only to be repelled by the Bulldogs consistent defense led by Sophia Atherton, Ava Kristofco and Isley Newton.
Paavni Rao and Kayla Hammonds subbed in for the Bulldogs to keep the defense fresh. Bulldog goalkeeper Nikki Bean found herself with only seven saves for the game, but cleared numerous long balls that she scooped up near the top of the box and punted into her awaiting offense. No one was able to find the shot, so the teams went into halftime tied at 0-0.
During halftime, the Bulldog coaching staff asked the ladies to make some adjustments. Coach JT Schroer said “They made the adjustments we asked them to make in the second half; of keeping it simple, finding the passes, and stringing together multiple passes.”
The adjustments worked as the Bulldogs controlled the tempo of the game for the first portion of the second half. Many pushes into Circleville field were set-up by the Athens midfield, including Chloe Clevenger, Elena Delach, Karma Fugate and Maya Shaw. The work of the midfield to distribute the ball effectively allowed the offensive line of Kyla Kinnard, Osha Backus, Bella Sutton and Kendra Hammonds to rack up multiple attempts. Alas, no one on the Bulldog team seemed to be able to find a shot worth taking, as they were all either deflected by the defense or sent wide.
With just under 16 minutes remaining in the game, one of the Bulldog pushes finally found an opening in the Tiger defensive line. Senior Kella Rice received a pass up from the midfield to the top of the box. After beating a Circleville defender, Rice found herself facing the charging Circleville goalkeeper. A bit of fancy footwork allowed Rice to nearly escape the keeper’s reach as the ball deflected off her glove. As the ball headed towards the end line wide of the goal, Backus sped into the box to tap the ball over the goal line putting the Bulldogs up 1-0. The Tigers continued to push back into the Bulldog space, but would be denied the net.
When sophomore midfielder Chloe Clevenger was asked why the Bulldogs looked like a stronger team tonight; “It takes time to learn to work with your teammates and work with the people that are around you. You learn that you need to use them instead of just playing with them, you are actually part of their game. In the midfield, you basically need to constantly talk to those people that are around you, and I have Elena (Delach) and Karma (Fugate) in front of me and Angela (Owens) working with me on the sidelines. We were communicating the entire time and that just comes with a lot of practice and we didn’t do that before.”
This game saw the Bulldogs find their stride and work together in a more consistent nature than previous games. The Bulldogs will continue to build on their success when they travel to Philo Sat.