MORGANTOWN — Heading into Tuesday night’s battle between cross-town rivals University and Morgantown, Mohigan coach Stirlin Rivers was all about possession.
“We wanted to win by playing the way we like to play soccer, which is possessing the ball,” Rivers said.
The strategy paid off, as a fourth-minute goal by sophomore Anna Rose Iquinto put Morgantown (7-2) in the lead at Mylan Pharmaceuticals Stadium, leaving them no task but controlling possession — and their opponent on the chase.
The 1-0 loss was the first setback of the season for University.
“This was probably our best possession game we’ve had as a team,” Iquinto said. “At one point, we had the ball for two minutes passing around — we didn’t need to push, but we had possession.”
The game was decided largely in the midfield, where a valiant effort from the Mohigans kept the notoriously aggressive Hawks off the attack and the ball in their hands.
“You saw how much we try to possess it tonight in, especially in the middle,” Rivers said. “We have some of our best technical players there, and we won the game there. It was so crucial to have the confidence to possess it in the middle, and I don’t think they had an answer for that.”
The Mohigan midfield outplayed their rivals at nearly every turn, throwing the Hawks off-kilter and keeping them away from their game plan.
“They were all over us, and they possessed the ball tremendously. It makes it extremely difficult for us,” said UHS coach Graham Peace. “[MHS junior] Sammy Brown in the midfield controlled the game. She was the best player on the field tonight, and when your midfielder is the best player on the field, you’re going to win the game.
“They made it very difficult for us to generate offense, in that first half, and they had us chasing the game — it’s always hard when you’re chasing a game.”
Despite all of this, the Hawks still managed to earn numerous opportunities at the net, but couldn’t convert. Peace called the missed opportunities unlucky, describing them as an anomaly rather than a trend.
“Sometimes luck doesn’t go your way — soccer is a cruel game,” Peace said. “We didn’t finish our opportunities and that’s on us. MHS took us out of our game a bit.”
The loss was the first for the UHS seniors on their home turf, in OVAC action, and against MHS since entering the program their freshman season.
“You have to be able to fight through adversity, and tonight we faced adversity. We haven’t seen much of that in the past few years, and I think what we’ll learn from this is that we can’t be complacent,” Peace said.
“It can come back to bite you, and tonight it did. We won’t be complacent again.”
For MHS, the first win over their local foe — a squad that has made the trip to the Class AAA state championship game during each of its previous two campaigns — in years is a significant milestone, but Rivers wants to be sure his team doesn’t get too caught up in the excitement.
“My first experience of this rivalry was exciting, and I’m excited for the girls,” he said.
“When you look at the picture though, it’s just one game — it doesn’t matter much in the picture of the season. We have to move on and focus on our next game.”