by BRYAN EVERSON
A clinical, experienced Utica Ford team provided a tough early season test for Athens Tuesday night.
Led by several of the better attackers in the state, the Falcons scored a 4-0 victory over the host Red Hawks thanks to a trio of goals before the break.
The visitors put the Red Hawks behind the 8-ball less than six minutes in when first-team all-state forward Cecilia Steinwascher drew in a defender and a one-two combination with a teammate gave her an opening to finish for the opening goal.
Similar mistakes that led to the initial deficit somewhat epitomized the entire night for Athens.
“We had the opportunity to fix that three or four times,” Athens coach Todd Heugh said.
“It was very slow developing. [Steinwascher is] a very good player and has scored against us just about every game we’ve played over the last four years. It’s difficult putting yourself in a hole five minutes in, and when you’re trying to sort things out, it makes it tough to climb out of.” “It was too late before we settled down and figured out how to play a little bit, Where we were hit hardest [by graduated players] was in the back and in goal, and they return a majority of their team. They’re good, we knew they would be good, and they made us pay. We were a little disorganized.”
The Red Hawks (0-1-1) were able to find their footing and subdue Ford for the next 25 minutes, but got hit with a pair of goals in the final 10 minutes of the opening half. Junior midfielder Darline Radamaker got onto a ball played over the top by Steinwascher and opened up her shape for a left-footed goal from 15 yards out with 8:34 left. Less than four minutes after, Radamaker made it a pair when she fired from 30 yards out and Athens goalkeeper Julia Lower was unable to prevent a ball headed over her from staying out of the net.
Several good chances came for Athens early in the second half to try and chip away at the deficit. A shot by Skyla Gebauer was blocked by a Ford defender that led to a corner kick, and the Falcons again deflected a chance on the ensuing sequence. Senior midfielder Ashley Leonard (Western Kentucky) had a go at a free kick less than four minutes later, but her try from roughly 30 yards soared just over the left side of the crossbar.
The Falcons put a cap on the scoring and caught Lower a bar from the posts when Salena Speagle gathered a pass played through the air and chipped a shot over the Red Hawks netminder from outside the box and in with 23 minutes remaining.
Athens would be held scoreless in the final 20 minutes, but had a number of quality chances, including a shot by Emma Haggarty from almost 25 yards out that rattled the crossbar.
“I thought we were able to settle down, fix our shape a little bit and decide to play [after the first goal],” Heugh said. “[Finishing scoreless] wasn’t for a lack of creating chances ourselves — we had quite a few shots on frame — but I think their experience outshined ours a little bit.”
After a scoreless draw against Anchor Bay to start the season that included four saves by Lower, the Red Hawks will look to right the course after spring break with a road match against Avondale on April 11.
“We really only had three or four practices,” Heugh said. “We kicked off our year with no scrimmages and two MAC Red teams off the get-go. It doesn’t get any easier in conference play, but we’ll always fix things along the way.”
“There’s growing pains, but I’m pretty confident. We’ve got a lot of really good players and we’ll be fine.”