Everyone in Albemarle County was coming off Spring Break. Everyone just kind of had to leap right back into the fray.
But playing your archrival on night one? That’s simply no easy task.
Western Albemarle girls soccer proved up to the challenge though, scoring a pair of first half goals before holding on the entire second half for a 2-0 victory as the Patriots put together a valiant effort after the break and kept the pressure on Western throughout the rivalry clash.
“Albmearle obviously is one of our biggest opponents so getting goals early is a really big deal,” said Western Albemarle junior Reese Mattern. “It kind of sets the tone and pace and getting those goals early got our team pumped up mentally.”
Mattern assisted on the Warriors’ first goal with a feed to Phebe Ryan, then Mattern took care of the second one herself to put Western up 2-0 at the break.
“They were laying off her a bit in the first half and she was able get face up and running at them and she’s just as fast with the ball as she is without the ball,” said first-year Western head coach Kristie Braunston, who took over from Jake Desch this year. “That’s definitely a huge weapon for us.”
Mattern’s speed and Ryan’s quickness and savvy make the Warriors’ offense pretty challenging to defend.
“She reads the game so well, and she’s very good at picking out gaps she can play through and then she’s also able to get herself in the box and get goals,” Braunston said. “She’s such a well-rounded player.”
Along with keeper Elana Romesburg who put together the shutout and had a couple of critical saves, they form a solid core of juniors on what’s a relatively young Western roster with just four seniors and five juniors that lost several key pieces to graduation a year ago.
“The other thing (about Elana) is that she’s great with her feet so we’re able to play back to her and she’s good with her hands,” Braunston said. “It’s great to have someone back there who you have confidence in and can make the stops that they need to make and some of the ones that they’re not supposed to.”
The Patriots responded well to going down a couple of goals and created all kinds of havoc in the second half including one near-miss midway through the half where a Devon Higginbottom corner nearly found the back of the net with Sam Fischer, Alyssa Moreira and Courtney Hughlett battling in front of the net.
“We loved our response at halftime to be able to get some opportunities, unfortunately the ball didn’t bounce our way,” said Albemarle coach Amy Sherrill. “But it was a great response to keep them and their offensive weapons at bay when we can.”
The Patriots’ nine seniors and the rest of the lineup have had to re-tool a little on the fly due to injury (Reese Bonham is out) and evolving roles after graduating four first team All-District seniors off last year’s unit.
“We’re trying to figure out our identity and who we are,” Sherrill said. “It’s a work in progress.”
The rivals will square off again May 4th, but in the meantime, Albemarle faces Charlottesville Thursday night at home while the Warriors host Fluvanna County next Tuesday.