It was a long, pensive ride across historic Lake Pontchartrain for the Ursuline Soccer Lions heading to a strong opponent in Pearl River High School. The Rebels had ended the playoffs early for the Lions last year with a hard to swallow 5-1 result. Our girls drove those miles after leaving school considering what it would take to bring down the Goliath waiting just off I-59 on Taylor Street. For more than the first 70 minutes of the match, the focused play of this pride of Lions was successful.
Proficient Lions captain McKenna Brannan pushed the tempo in the first half. Snaking and spinning like a whirling dervish through sharp Pearl River Rebel challenges to send through balls for fleet footed Emma Scobel who nearly scored twice before half. Smartly, the Lions midfield joined in with spirited Center-mid Lillian Wiseman snapping up the ball to restart the offensive attack. Front-line play sourced the scoring opportunities for the Lions. Clever striker Nimah Baloney spun, tapped, twisted on knifing runs down the middle of the field. Deft Right winger Vivian Reece took runs up the wing and smashed penetrating passes over the middle. Exhilarated Left winger Kate Martin - pressed more in the first half - challenging the possession game of the Rebels as they made back passes.
Defensive play was key to counterpoint the speed and ball control of the Rebels. Throughout the match the Rebels worked precision passing up through the midfield only to be frustrated by the Lions guile ending those runs or causing bad angles on shots. Alacritous Center-back Aribelle Holley marshaled the back line and zestfully returned Rebel attacks with passes out to the Lions midfield. Winged Center-back Isa Suarez combatted the Rebel deep runs into the middle of the field with her irrepressible speed. Velocious Right back Isabel Lambiet was repeatedly tested to match up with sortie after sortie of Rebel runs up the wing – which she repeatedly kept outside of the Lions penalty area. Forceful Left back Keira Kelly in several key moments, stripped the ball from Rebel attackers and pinpointed a long clearing ball up to midfield.
Though the Rebels fired 29 shots, more than half went wide not truly testing the keeper because the defense did their job.
With every match for our Ursuline Lions, the target gets bigger, and the pressure intensifies; but the seasoned grit of our State Street soccer team is keeping a measured approach. Our girls just take it game by game, one step at a time, baby steps improving elements of our play all the way back to the LHSAA playoffs.
In the frigid fatiguing second half, the temperature began to fall under 50 degrees. It didn’t sour the effort - our State Street girls indeed had several good chances. The best of them came in the 54th minute when accurate passing Nimah Baloney sent a through ball into the box for supersonic Emma Scobel, who tried to angle around the goalkeeper to get a look only to have her shot slice just wide of the upright. Experienced striker Natalia Mann had a brilliant opportunity on a free kick served up by adept Lions captain McKenna Brannan - into the Rebels penalty area; but the ball went wide.
Crackerjack Keeper Jenna Hoisington did have 13 saves on the night and had the play of the match after the 65th minute when an aggressively contested play in the Ursuline penalty area resulted in a penalty kick for the Rebels. With the match still knotted 0-0, the steely eyed keeper plied her trade. She was steady on the ball and made the incredible save - exhorting her teammates afterwards.
A scoreless match is a dangerous game to play with an always talented Pearl River squad, and fatigue drained our girls. The Rebels had a fully rotating bench, while the Lions were working with a very thin squad. While Ursuline dominated the pace of play in the first half — the Lions bullied and strong-armed the Rebels off the ball with abandon — Pearl River started playing the ball over the top effectively in the second half, causing both teams to regularly flip the field. Exhaust drained the girls running such a track meet – Pearl River ran in substitutes to counter this. Our girls played hard, surpassing the point of running out of steam on this night where the cold was biting.
The Stars of State Street were clearly putting a lot of pressure. In practice, they always try to connect through the middle. It was like, even if the Rebels were bringing the pressure, the Lions were going to bring it right back. It was much like a grueling marathon. By the 74th minute and the 78th minute when the Rebels were able to score, it was impressive to see our girls not quit pressing through the final whistle.
Coach Mason said after the game, “Be proud of the way we played and the effort you all put in for your team and your teammates.”
Next up for our girls:
01/13 – St. Martin’s Episcopal @ St. Martin’s 6 p.m.
01/14 – LW Higgins @ Avondale 4:15 p.m.
01/15 – Louise S. McGehee @ Pan American Stadium 11 a.m.