St. James soccer earns first victory
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It took much longer than they’d hoped for, but the St. James Academy girls finally picked up their first soccer victory of the season in the seventh-place game of the Heart of America Classic on Saturday at UMKC.
The Thunder beat Pinewood Prep of Summerville, S.C., 5-1, snapping a five-game losing streak and giving them their first victory since the Class 5-1A state championship game last year.
The losing streak can be attributed to a combination of youth, inexperience, injuries and a schedule so brutal that coach Rick Enna said it might be the toughest of any high school team in the nation.
With that being the case, the victory against Pinewood can be attributed to the Thunder learning from their mistakes during the first five games and finally playing a good all-around game.
“We went into this last game feeling like it was time to put it all together, so it was pretty neat to see how the team progressed,” Enna said. “We got a great performance as a team, really minimized mistakes, took care of the ball, created opportunities and finished our chances.”
St. James opened the tournament Friday with a 3-2 loss to Tulsa (Okla.) Union High. Union jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but Maggie Brophy pulled St. James within 2-1 when she scored on a scramble in front of the net. Union tacked on a goal late in the first half for a 3-1 lead. The score remained the same until the 76th minute when Rebekka Flax punched home a goal to bring the Thunder within 3-2.
“The first game against Tulsa Union was a very evenly played game, and I felt we actually had more opportunities to finish,” Enna said. “They were an excellent team, but we played well in the midfield and I thought we were very dangerous. We had a goal called back and we had other opportunities, but we shot ourselves in the foot with the same problems that had been plaguing us.”
Those problems — missing defensive marks and giving the ball away too much in their third of the field — disappeared for the most part on Saturday as the Thunder played two solid games.
St. James lost to Grandview (Mo.), 1-0, in the consolation semifinals Saturday morning. Grandview’s Hannah Flachman scored the game-winner in the 76th minute despite the Thunder holding an advantage in shot attempts.
St. James fixed its strategic problems against Grandview, but the Thunder solved their scoring woes against Pinewood.
They dominated in the middle and defensive thirds of the field throughout the game, and offensively they effectively worked the ball through standout scorer Bethany Smith. A point guard on the basketball team, Smith operated as the focal point on the soccer field for St. James. She controlled the ball in the middle and passed to open teammates on the wings before receiving the ball again in position to score.
Smith scored her first of four goals against Pinewood when she was on the receiving end of a corner kick by Madelyn Buckner in the seventh minute. Smith struck again four minutes later, this time after Flax made a steal and fed a nice pass to Smith for a one-on-one finish against the keeper.
Smith tallied her third goal in the 17th minute. After feeding a pass to Buckner, Buckner worked the ball to Annie Reilly in the middle. Reilly found Smith cutting across the middle and hit her in stride for the two-touch finish into the lower right corner of the net.
The score remained 3-0 until early in the second half. Smith dribbled past two defenders on the end line and slipped a pass to Katherine Brophy. Brophy flicked a shot off the goalkeeper, but Jordan Marquess recovered the loose ball and found Nicole Mitchell at the back post for the finish and a 4-0 lead.
Smith made the score 5-0 with her fourth goal of the game in the 51st minute. This one came off an assist from Buckner on a beautiful through-ball.
Pinewood scored its lone goal after a defensive breakdown by St. James in the 58th minute.
Enna praised his team for its commitment to improving from game to game and not losing focus against stiff competition.
“This was a great tournament for us,” he said. “We’ve now played six games, all against just the highest level of competition you could as for. Each game we have gotten better.”