The Jr. Bills took the field for the first official time on Wednesday at Marquette under cloudy skies, unconcerned about the chance for rain. Sixty minutes later, though, as the sky turned yellow and lightning forced a delay that ultimately ended the game, the varsity soccer team left the field in a 2-2 tie feeling unsatisfied.
The score was a letdown, especially after the Jr. Bills’ strong first half. After a shaky start playing in transition and struggling to look confident on the ball, the star-packed SLUH offense got rolling 10 minutes into the first half, when an offensive push led to a corner kick for the Jr. Bills. Sophomore Gabe Hafner took the kick and sent it straight off the head of senior forward Tyler Van Bree.
Van Bree’s goal put SLUH on top early against Marquette, a team that many SLUH players regarded as one of the best in the state. As Van Bree slid into the corner flag in celebration, head coach Bob O’Connell was relieved to see that their hard work in practice was paying off.
“One of our emphasis this year was to be better on restarts, and on our first corner of the year we get a great serve from Gabe and Tyler goes up and makes a play,” he said. “I thought the first goal was great.”
After Van Bree’s score, SLUH dominated the rest of the half, maintaining near-constant ball possession. The second goal was a streak of brilliance from junior midfielder Sam Teiber, who rocketed a missile from just outside the 18 into the back of Marquette’s goal.
From there the game grew more physical on both sides, not only from the teams, but from some jeers coming from the small Marquette student section. Jackson Griffiths-Hill, one of the fans’ targets, chose to let the score speak for itself.
“I thought it was more funny than anything. If you can’t take the heat, leave the kitchen,” Griffiths-Hill joked.
After 45 minutes of play, the Jr. Bills entered halftime with a 2-0 lead. O’Connell was very happy with his team’s performance.
“The first half we were incredibly dangerous going forward. We were great in the air and we were tougher than them.We scored two really good goals,” he said.
The Mustangs came out strong in the second half, though. As the SLUH offense cooled off from the first half, the defense found themselves facing more Marquette shots with mixed results. Marquette found the net early in the second half after a defensive mistake to make it 2-1.
“I've watched the goal a couple times already and we can learn from that first goal,” O’Connell admitted. “There were some small things we could have done to put us back in the game. We had a chance to play our keeper and we didn't. We had the chance to kick it out of bounds and we didn’t.”
After this, SLUH seemed to slowly lose momentum. Roughly 10 minutes into the second half, the Jr. Bills let up a second goal from Marquette’s star forward. Shortly after the score evened, though, lightning in the area forced a 30-minute delay which eventually led them to call the game at 2-2. The team was frustrated, as they recognised the potential they had to dethrone a team that received significant pre-season hype.
“I think if we would have played that game to completion, we would have scored another goal,” said O’Connell.
In the end, though, it was defense that troubled the Jr. Bills in their season opener. O’Connell and his fellow coaches are looking to right that, though, as they try to find their starting goalie in SLUH’s next stretch of games.
“All three goalies will get a chance here early and that’s still the plan regardless of the result,” said O’Connell. “By the CBC Tournament, maybe it’ll be a little bit clearer who’s going to play.”
The next match for the Jr. Bills will be this afternoon against Glendale at SLUH. The soccer team will look to officially add a win to their record as they suit up at 6:00 for a game that will also feature this year’s Running of the Bills.
“It should be exciting. As much as it’s going to be fun, we still have to play the way we would any other time and not get distracted. Too much celebration, and coach will not be happy,” said senior Jacob Lemley.
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