Note: This recap appears in the Thursday, Sept. 5 newspaper on Page A6.
This year’s crop of Athens Bulldog seniors had not seen a win against the Jackson Ironladies during their high school careers.
That is, until they emerged victorious from a predictably physical soccer match at R. Basil Rutter Field in The Plains Tuesday evening.
The teams traded many fouls, but only a few shots on goal. Junior Athens goalkeeper Elena Delach finished the evening with four saves, and the Bulldogs only managed three shots on goal. But their first shot ended up being all that was needed to record the 1-0 win.
The Ironladies started the match, but were quickly dispossessed of the ball by the Athens midfield. After some excellent passing, the ball made it close to the left corner of the Bulldogs’ offensive side of the field, with senior midfielder Caroline Brandes in possession.
Brandes eluded a defender, and dribbled the ball into the penalty box. With another Jackson defender closing in, she was able to place a beautiful cross in front of the goal. Senior forward Claire Benyei had timed her run perfectly to meet it, and was able to strike the ball decisively into the back of the net.
Less than two minutes into the game, the Bulldogs were ahead 1-0. Enjoying a post-game ice cream treat, Benyei said of the goal, “it’s the kind of situation every player hopes for. Caroline made some great moves with the ball and put it in front of me to finish.”
For the remainder of the first half, the Bulldogs played possession soccer, with patient passing and stout defense. Notably, senior defenders Madison Schroer and Lyra Skinner, and sophomore Lexey Amsdell were involved with many minutes of play into the Athens offensive side of the field, allowing the midfielders and forwards to wear down the Jackson defense. But the Ironladies would not go quietly, and managed to squeak through the Bulldog defense to pull off three shots on goal the first half.
One of those came with 18 minutes left in the half. Athens goalkeeper Delach made the save, only to be knocked to the ground by a charging Jackson forward. No foul was called, and Delach bounced back up as if nothing happened.
The second half saw similar physical soccer, with fouls being called more frequently, though none serious enough to warrant a card from the referee. The Bulldogs stuck with their possession play and continued to pressure the Ironladies with attacks deep into Jackson territory from seniors Brigid McSteen, Mariah Heflin and Kattie Jones, sophomore Sophia Atherton, and freshman Annie Moulton.
This led to a shot on goal by sophomore midfielder Bella Martin, who attempted a strike from just outside the penalty box, but was denied by the Jackson keeper. When the Jackson defense turned the Athens attack away, midfielders, senior Anna Welser, and sophomore Karma Fugate were there to keep feeding their forwards. The Ironladies were able to manage few offensive runs, but senior Athens defenders Hannah Schulz and Emma Dabelko responded like the veterans that they are, with one play seeing Dabelko make an outstanding slide tackle on an attacking Ironlady to prevent a shot.
There was an air of desperation from both sides as the game neared the end. Athens wanted the insurance goal and Jackson was pushing their hardest to leave with a tie, or better.
With four minutes remaining, the speed of sophomore Athens forward Osha Backus helped develop a scoring opportunity out of seemingly nothing. Backus dribbled past Jackson defenders along the side line, took the ball near the end line, and was able to cross it to a waiting freshman forward Tess Wilhelm.
Wilhelm made the quick strike, but the Jackson goalie was in position to make the save. The time could not come off the clock fast enough for Athens, and Jackson was playing to the final tick. The Ironladies saw an opportunity with less than a minute left, when they played a through ball to an attacker that was getting separation from the Bulldog defense.
The Jackson attacker was able to get off a strong shot, which looked headed for the net just inside the left post, but Athens keeper Elena Delach dove to punch the ball outside and over the end line. The ensuing corner kick from Jackson would not connect, and a relieved Athens walked off with the win.