By David Rogers. September 27, 2020. BOONE, NC — Even though Appalachian State battled South Alabama women’s soccer to a 0-0 tie when the horn to declare halftime blew across Ted Mackorell Soccer Stadium on Sunday, onlookers could be forgiven if they sensed the Mountaineers were holding on by their fingernails.
All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Arguably the strongest women’s soccer program in the Sun Belt Conference after winning five of the last six conference championships, South Alabama reinforced their pedigree in rallying in the second half to score a 3-0 victory over a gritty, but obviously tired Mountaineer side.
The Jaguars got off four shots during the scoreless first half — all recorded as “saves” by App State goalkeeper Kerry Eagleston — compared to just one by the Mountaineers, an effort by redshirt junior midfielder Drew Hallum that scooted wide left. Otherwise, App State rarely threatened with possession near the South Alabama goal.
South Alabama was led by midfielders Brenna McPartlan and Athanasia Moraitou, as well as forward Ana Helmert, each of whom accounted a goal in the second half. Forward Morgan Cross recorded two assists, as did defender Olivia Wilkes.
Altogether, the Jaguars manufactured eight shots on goal in the second half. While five missed their mark, the three that got past the Appalachian GK, Eagleston, went unanswered by the Mountaineers.
“They outplayed us,” the Mountaineers senior midfielder/forward Tess Cairney admitted to Blowing Rock News after the game. “We were tired.”
Cairney indicated that Sunday’s collapse in the second half follows an all too familiar pattern for the Mountaineers. “In the first half we connected well and executed the game plan, then in the last 45 (minutes) we didn’t. We need to put together a full 90 minutes (performance).”
Asked in follow-up whether it was a matter of fitness and Cairney promptly replied, “No, definitely not. Sunday’s are always going to be a grind (less than 48 hours after a Friday evening match). Today it just got the best of us…They were just more dangerous in the final third (of the field)…They manufactured more chances (to shoot) in the final third.”
“South Alabama is a very good team,” Hallum pointed out to Blowing Rock News in a post game interview. “They are very competitive and always a big battle for us. The first 45 minutes we played well enough against them. We just need to be able to stick it out together…Second half, we were a bit overwhelmed, but that is something we can fix. Really, we can’t wait to play them a second time.”
Head coach Sarah Strickland refused to make excuses, but explained after being asked about what she took from Saturday’s disappointing outcome, “I take from it that we had a lot of players who got good experience today. We have a lot of injuries so we are trying to fill some holes (in the lineup). We are hoping to get some players back, but in the meantime some of the younger players are stepping in, like (freshman) Jordan Rountree who played 70 minutes in the backline for us today.”
“We try to help these kids,” Strickland noted, “but the reality is this is when these sorts of things happen: when you can’t properly train in preparation (for competition) like you normally do.
“South Alabama scores a lot of goals,” added the longtime Mountaineer coach. “In the Sun Belt, at least, they are always the team to beat. We did well in the first half, stuck to the game plan and executed. Then I thought we started to get stretched in the second half. Some of that is fatigue, but a lot of it is experience, too. Against that team, South Alabama, we have to put two halves together to get the desired result.”
Experience is something the Mountaineers look to grow into with a roster that includes only two true seniors, one redshirt senior, and three juniors.