It was the game many girls soccer fans around the area had been waiting to see.
And, the host Union Lady ’Cats earned their 20th win of the season with a 3-1 victory over the Washington Lady Jays.
Union (20-1-1) was tested by the Lady Jays (13-7) throughout a physical game.
“It was a tough game,” Union Head Coach Matt Fennessey said. “Washington came in ready to play and I thought in some phases of the game that they were the better team tonight. Round 1 went to us, but it’s a toss-up for Round 2.”
Washington Head Coach Adam Fischer said his team played well.
“It was a good soccer game,” Fischer said. “We had two pretty good soccer teams out of Franklin County. Obviously, they’ve been one of the top state-ranked teams all year and it’s just good to get onto the field against a quality opponent like them.”
The two teams have played each other for a district title in each of the past two seasons with each side winning once. And many expect them to be favorites to meet for the Class 3 District 9 title once again this year.
“Maybe in two weeks we’ll see them again and maybe not,” Fischer said. “We’ve got a few teams we’ve got to worry about before then.”
Union scored early, needing 3:50 to take the lead. Maddie Helling was alone in the middle and had time to take Emily Gaebe’s pass from the left side and put a left-footed volley past Washington goalkeeper Ariel Pettis for the opening goal.
“I thought for the first 10-15 minutes, they put a lot more pressure on us than we were ready for,” Fennessey said. “Maddie scoring that goal early on from Emily was really our only offensive play in the first 10-15 minutes. We were able to capitalize on it. A lot of that time and at a lot of positions, Washington was the better team tonight.”
Fischer said his team came out to make a statement.
“We really just came out in the first two or three minutes and dominated,” Fischer said. “Then, all of a sudden, we fell asleep in the middle. You can’t leave Helling alone in the box. We gave her time to settle one above her head and put one in. Those are the things we’ve struggled with all year. We can’t give the other team’s best players, really in their case all 11, the time to do that. We needed to take that time away from them.”
Washington, which had much of the offensive pressure in the first half, found itself down 2-0 just before the half. Union’s Gigi Gore blasted a shot into the goal with 31 seconds to play in the first half. Erika Toelke picked up the assist.
“That was just a fantastic job from her, creating something out of nothing,” Fennessey said. “She had to beat two or three girls at the top of the box and hit a beautiful right-footed shot into the side of the net. Going into halftime with that two-goal lead, we had a little more cushion and we were able to get some fresh players into the game. That absolutely helped. We needed that.”
Washington struck back midway through the second half as Jessie Donnelly knocked the ball in from a close shot with 25:31 to play. Abbey Baldwin assisted.
“I thought Jessie did a pretty good job of winning the ball and persevering through a few of their kids. We’ll just have to do a better job on those types of balls when we see them.”
Union wasted no time in responding. Just 1:05 after the Lady Jays scored, Union got a similar goal on the other end. Addie Davis had the final shot. Emma Cloud assisted.
“That’s one of the things we hit on after the game,” Fennessey said. “We haven’t been scored on a lot this year. As a coaching staff, one of the things we want to see is how we are going to respond when we do get scored on and it was the perfect response for me. Emily sends the ball into the corner. Kaylee Simpson makes a nice 50-yard run to get to it and keep it in. Logan Baeres draws the foul and good things happened from there. Addie was in the right spot and Emma played a nice ball into the box and Addie picked up her third goal of the year. But it all started with the response and doing the right thing after the goal.”
Fischer said Union showed desire in scoring its goals.
“They just wanted the ball more on all three goals,” Fischer said. “They won them and put the ball into the net.”
While the 3-1 score held up for the rest of the game, Washington put intense pressure onto the Union goal late in the game, forcing Hannah Olive to scramble to keep the ball out of the net.
Olive earned the win, making several saves. Pettis made nine saves for Washington.
“We were inches away here and there from being 2-2 or 3-2, but that’s soccer,” Fischer said.
“The last 20 minutes, I put some younger kids in at times and some in spots they hadn’t played,” Fischer said. “I felt in the last 20 minutes, we were the better team other than the last goal they scored. We didn’t do a good job of finishing. Caitlyn Vodnansky and Joie Heien made some good runs late. Jessie Donnelly made a couple of other good runs. Hopefully, those fall for us later down the road.”
Baeres just returned from an arm injury for Union.
“Logan has really stepped up and played a lot of good minutes for us early on,” Fennessey said. “She had started to find the back of the net, scoring two or three goals right before she went out. We’re going to need her to do that again as we go. She played a lot of big minutes for us tonight to continue that solid play.”
Fennessey said others stepped up.
“We wanted to get everybody in the game tonight because if things go as they should, there’s a good chance of us playing these guys again in the district championship. You want to get everyone battle-tested and ready to go so when their number gets called, if we put ourselves into that position, some of the nerves are worn off.”