MORGANTOWN — At breezy, sunny and ever-so slightly chilly Mylan Pharmaceuticals Stadium, two bright, undefeated girls soccer programs faced off in an early rivalry measuring stick match, as University hosted Preston.
The contrasting styles often make for interesting soccer when the defensively stout Knights face the Hawks and their possession build-up attack, and last night was another similar chapter in the story — as was the plot and the ending, as University overcame an early goal with a strong final 50 minutes to win, 2-1.
Somewhat cautious and tentative in the early stages, the game broke open in the 15th minute when Knights junior speedster Megan Noss won a 50/50 ball off a goal kick, stepped forward and rifled a screaming right-foot shot from 30 yards out into the upper right corner for a 1-0 PHS lead.
Perhaps inspired by the sudden deficit, the Hawks began to build through the midfield with a stronger sense of purpose, earning some decent scoring chances and several corners kicks. And it was the final corner of the half, with just over a minute remaining, that led to a brilliant UHS goal and a tied match.
Junior Kassidy Wolfe served a lovely, soft ball right on the goal line, and senior Stephanie Chmiel roared in and buried the header. Then, with just 30 seconds left, junior Isabella Bowers ran onto another open cross from eight yards out, but Preston’s freshman keeper Kinley Manko fired off her line and armed down a potential go-ahead goal with a great reaction save, keeping the score knotted.
The Hawks (2-0-1) continued to press their advantage in the second half, earning more scoring threats and cutting the field effectively in half. Wearing down the Knights’ defenders, the UHS again found the back of the net in the 62nd minute on a long run from sophomore Tristen Bright. Open on the right wing, and with numbers sprinting toward goal in support, Bright methodically backed her 1-vs.-1 defender inside the 18, cut sharply inside to get free, then calmly rolled a shot into the open left side for a 2-1 advantage.
The Knights (1-1) would not go quietly, and pressed hard for the equalizer in the final five minutes. A free kick in the 76th minute was lofted into the box and was free for several dangerous moments before UHS defenders finally hoisted the ball clear, and a final offense thrust at the one minute mark looked promising, but a quality hit never materialized.
Preston coach Rodney Liston enthused about his team’s improvement from Game 1 to Game 2, especially his young keeper.
“I like what I’ve seen so far from everybody. Our spacing was better, as was our team defense,” he said, “plus I thought we connected passes well in stretches. And Kinley (with six saves) did a nice job tonight. She’s shaken off her nerves and played with composure, agility, quickness, and she was decisive when moving off her line. And she has lots of room and time to grow into her game, too.”
UHS co-coach Graham Peace was impressed with the way his team gutted out the win in the second half.
“We played an extremely good Parkersburg South team to a nil-nil draw [Tuesday] that took a lot out of us,” he explained. “Back to back matches are pretty brutal, especially when you aren’t super deep. But they really found their way past all of our first half turnovers, settled down with simpler passes, and shortened the field and made them defend continuously. Eventually, we wore them down. Preston is so solid and organized in the back, it’s really the best way to play them, and we managed to get a couple and pull it out.”
Preston travels to Musselman on Saturday for an 11 a.m. match, while University hosts Martinsburg, also Saturday at 11 a.m.