by John Unrein
The Grain Valley Lady Eagles soccer team put their unblemished record on the line against the Park Hill South Panthers at Moody Murray Stadium on April 5th. A slight breeze and seventy one degrees with sunshine greeted both teams as they took to the field on a beautiful spring evening. The endzone facing the concession stand witnessed sophomore goalkeeper Camihle Williams practicing blocking fundamentals as Grain Valley head coach Tyler Nichol kicked an array of soccer balls in the direction of Williams prior to the start of the game.
The focus on fundamentals would come in handy for Williams as she would play a solid second half in goal for the Lady Eagles. Seniors Sophie Broockerd, Raena Childers, and Valerie Holcomb would join Williams in putting forth a strong effort in helping secure the 2-1 win against a Suburban Conference opponent. The narrow victory let the Grain Valley sideline breathe a sigh of relief as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
Nichol was upbeat in praising the effort of his team as they faced a strong opponent in what felt like a playoff atmosphere. The Lady Eagles had to overcome the Panthers high press and going into the wind in the first half. Furthermore, Park Hill South possessed the ball more as the game progressed, which led to a 19-10 shots on goal advantage for the Panthers. Nichol indicated the satisfaction garnered from watching his team compete during high leverage situations.
“This was a great win. First thing after the game in our team huddle, one of the girls said, ‘that was tough, but fun.’ This was a postseason like game against a team that feels like they could possibly make a run this year in Class 4,” Nichol said.
“We took advantage of the chances we had in the first half (to gain the lead) only to have a couple slip away from us in the second half. Overall, this was a different type of game tonight. Coach (Brett) Lewis said it best when he described this as a ‘gritty’ win for us.”
Nichol continued, “We challenged the girls at halftime about being tougher on corner kicks and facing their (Park Hill South) set pieces. I was happy with how our team responded and the ‘grit’ they displayed. We got passed the initial feeling out period of two good teams who do not know each other that well.”
“The offense we displayed in the first fifteen minutes of the game with the goals by Raena (Childers) and Valerie (Holcomb) provided enough momentum for us to be successful. It would also be easy to say that Camihle (Williams) had her best game of the young season in goal for us tonight as well. Sophie (Broockerd) was all over the place. She does not know any speed other than one hundred percent. Broockerd got her ankle taped at halftime and it did not affect her play.”
Childers would score first for Grain Valley four minutes into the first half on a charge through the middle of the Panthers defense. Holcomb would follow suit thirteen minutes into the first half as well. A deflected shot by Park Hill South goalkeeper Lauren Longenecker off the right foot of Emma Thiessen would spin to the waiting foot of Holcomb to the right of the action for the goal. That would be all the offense Grain Valley would need.
Williams would make three crucial stops for the Lady Eagles in goal at 22 and 28 minutes into the first half to combine with a crucial save made 30 minutes into the second half. Equally as impressive was the four stops made by Broockerd in the second half. Broockerd would square up each charge only to mirror her opponent before halting the soccer ball. The adoration was distinct from Grain Valley teammates and the sideline for Williams and Broockerd in the waning minutes of the contest.
“Emma (Thiessen) and Raena (Childers) did a good job of getting the ball up and I was lucky to get the rebound. I did not even think about the shot, I just reacted. It has been great to start this season undefeated,” Holcomb said.
Broockerd added, “We were all motivated to get our sixth win tonight against a big school. The second half tried us, but we were determined to keep our focus on the basics, and it paid off.”
Childers concluded, “Our two goals early definitely established the pace of the game. I have always been told that a 2-0 lead is the hardest one to keep in a soccer game. It did give us the momentum needed to stay strong down the stretch. Starting the season 6-0 gives us extra motivation to keep this going.”
Grain Valley will next travel to Blue Springs to face the Wildcats on April 9th.