LANCASTER — The Fairfield Union Falcons were fleet-footed and physical, but this only served to motivate the Athens Bulldogs.
Although the Bulldogs surrendered two goals in the first 15 minutes of the game, they held the Falcons to just one goal for the remainder of the game.
Playing an opponent with greater skill offers the opportunity to elevate one’s performance. That is what Athens did under the lights in Fairfield Union on Monday night.
The Falcons dominated much of the game, restricting the play to the Bulldogs’ defensive third. The Falcons used the speed of their wingers to transport the ball down the sidelines, then launch the ball to the center of the box or to the back door.
In the first 15 minutes, the Athens defense was tested hard; some Bulldogs were out paced and some were out maneuvered. However, they soon figured out how to play against this challenging team. Defender Julia Dick denied balls in the center. Ava Kristofco cut off the crosses. And the outside defenders Khyla Brannon, Angela Owens, Jo Bertuna and Kateyanne Walburn sent short passes to their midfielders to try to build an attack.
Goalie, Kayla Hammonds, was also tested as the Falcons peppered shots at her from every angle. With this opportunity, she established her dominance in the box. She was aggressive, stepping out to snag the crosses and diving to divert low shots.
Twice, the Falcons rocketed a shot over Hammonds’ head, yet somehow she found a way to connect and punch the ball over the top cross bar. When asked what her approach was to defending the pipes, Hammonds stated, “I knew I just had to dive for everything. It’s like what we do in practice. When they cross the ball, you gotta come out and be there for it.”
She was also complimentary of her defense, “They were amazing! They figured out the attack, protected us, and got the ball back to the midfield as quickly as they could.”
As the first half ended, the Falcons had 20 shots on goal and Hammonds racked up 16 saves.
In the second half, the Falcons remained unforgiving, allowing Athens little room for error and capitalizing on any bad pass or a missed trap. When Athens was able to trap the ball and look up for the pass, the Falcons were breathing down their necks with pressure, forcing the Bulldogs to resort to one-touch passes. There were a few attempts at penetrating the Falcons’ defense, but none were successful. Although the Falcons scored one in the second half to create the 3-0 victory, the Bulldogs’ defense successfully frustrated the Falcons, holding them to just 11 shots in the second half.
At the end of the game, Athens coach Jason Schroer complimented the defense and midfield on their smart, rapid passes to feet. He was pleased with their intensity and effort. When asked how he keeps his team motivated in the face of such challenges, he stated “I don’t have to. They motivate themselves. They never quit. Did you see what happened in the last five minutes of the game? When the Falcons were subbing, the Bulldogs wanted the clock stopped. They wanted to play every last minute.”
When asked how the team stays positive under pressure, defender Kateyanne Walburn stated, “We know we have each other’s backs. So even when we go down a goal, we know we can pick it back up. One bad mistake does not make a whole game.”
The Bulldogs have faced great adversity this season with a tough strength of schedule. Yet, as a team, they show hustle the entire game and stay hungry for a win. Up next, the Bulldogs welcome Warren to Joe Burrow Stadium on Thursday