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Girls soccer: St. Helens plays physical with South Albany in 1-0 win

St. Helens tops South Albany on a goal from freshman Sophia Estep in the second minute

Photo Credit: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - Freshman Sophia Estep stikes in the second minute of the match to score the one and only goal for the Lions, a game-winner as St. Helens topped South Albany 1-0.Heading into the final week of their non-league schedule, girls soccer coach Simon Date knew they were in for a tough stretch.

“I didn't expect it from Dallas, but we see Lebanon and South Albany together, and we're like, 'alright, it's going to be a tough week,” Date said. “We're going to need some extra ice baths on Friday.'”

The Lions bounced back from a 2-1 loss to Dallas on Sept. 18 to take down South Albany at home on Monday evening, getting off to a hot start before buttoning down on defense and keeping a clean sheet for the first time this season.

Sophia Estep, the tiny freshman forward, had the lone tally for St. Helens in just the second minute of the match. After a shot in the opening seconds was well defended by South Albany, Estep collected a cross from fellow freshman Sidney Allen and fired in traffic, beating the Rebel keeper to put St. Helens on top 1-nil.

That's as far as either team would get, as the defense on both sides shored up and stifled every chance for the remaining 78 minutes of the match. South Albany had one shot clang off the crossbar late in the second half, but most attempts were straight into the hands of junior goalkeeper Athena Duggan.

Photo Credit: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - Junior Ashley Geisbers chases down the ball on a counterattack in the first half of St. Helens' 1-0 win over South Albany. Geisbers didn't score in the match, but her presence drew so much attention from the Raider defense that it opened opportunities for the rest of the Lion offense.And unlike in the game against Dallas, and last year's frustrating 2-1 loss on the road at South Albany, the majority of the attempts on goal belonged to St. Helens. Time and again, the tireless Lion midfield found a way to feed the ball forward to the feet of junior striker Ashley Geisbers, who came on a few minutes into the first half and drew the eyes of every defender on the pitch.

“As soon as she came on, they zeroed in on her. They knew who she was,” Date said. “It frees up all this space for Sophie, and Sophie had a great game. What was awesome to see — and she was frustrated, she hit a couple shots from the corner flag. She was trying to score — you see she was knocking balls out wide. She drew defenders in.”

Unlike the last two seasons, where Geisbers was more or less the Lions' only option up front, St. Helens now boasts a two-headed monster. It allows Geisbers to turn her back to goal, receive the forward pass from the midfield, and dish off to Estep when the defense collapses around her.

“This is where she matures as a player, she sees the bigger picture,” Date said. “She played a couple balls off to Sidney [Allen], she hit Sophie [Estep] a couple of times, it was perfect. It's exactly the kind of game we need from her. It was good.”

With just a few minutes remaining in the first half, St. Helens had perhaps the best shot at goal they'd see the entire match. The Lions fought for a corner on the left side, and brought captain Sydney Nett forward to assist in the resulting free kick. After a few moments of jostling for position in front of the goal, one of the officials blew his whistle, came running into the box and proceeded to tell Nett off, telling her to “pick a spot and stay there.” Estep sent the ball into play, but as soon as the ball was struck, the official blew his whistle, called a foul on Nett and gave possession back to the Rebels.

Photo Credit: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - St. Helens head coach Simon Date talks with his team during the halftime break, urging the Lions to use a frustrating call near the end of the first period as motivation for the remainder of the match. Date picked up a yellow card in the second half.Date was audibly upset, calling on the officials for an explanation after Nett rose and headed the ball perfectly into the back of the goal to give St. Helens what should have been a 2-0 lead.

“The two of them were banging it, it bothered me that he only talked to [Nett] because [the South Albany defender] was pushing as well,” Date said afterward. “At least bring them both together and talk to them. But then the cross came over, and before there was anything, that whistle went.”

Date got on the case of both the men in neon green shirts as the halftime buzzer sounded, walking up and “trying to be calm about it” before doubting whether the right arm of the opposite official really worked, and asking him whether his shoulder hurt. The second comment got Date a sharp warning, but he'd made his point.

“We talked a little bit at halftime about using it as fuel,” Date said of his conversation with the team during the break. “Adversity, kind of 'fine, if it's going to be like that, then we'll just hunker down,' you know, you get that bunker mentality and it's us against the world for the next 40 minutes.”

The next 40 minutes turned out to be a thrilling, scoreless draw of a half. South Albany clumped to one side, opening huge holes for Geisbers and Estep to dart through and threaten the Raider goalkeeper. Geisbers had several shots go just wide or over the crossbar, and Estep hit the keeper square in the gloves as time wound down.

But South Albany wasn't without chances of their own. The Raiders had a stretch with a free kick just outside the box and a pair of corners, all without scoring. It's a major step for the Lions to play well against set pieces, something that has been somewhat of a bane for the team as of late. Now, instead of attempting to make sure each and every opposing player is covered, St. Helens simply looks for the ball — there's only one of them, after all.

“We're probably not going to keep clean sheets on corners from now on, but it was good to see that work. Everybody was attacking. We were hitting headers. I mean, I was nervous as hell, pacing up and down here, but we did it. It worked.”

Overall, in spite of the stress and a second-half yellow card for a fired up Date, the Lions just managed to stick it through for their second victory of the young season. Lebanon, another physical team, looms Thursday before NW Oregon Conference play begins, but with a physically demanding win under their belt, Date thinks the Lions are one step further to finding a groove.

“You have games like this, and it pulls … it sort of bonds that team together,” Date said. “If we had tied that game, I think we'd have been devastated, but they didn't. They hung on.”

“We played a really physical team. Probably worse than Dallas, and we beat them,” he said. “We can do it. That's another hurdle now. We got over the physical side.”


St. Helens 1, South Albany 0

SOAL 0 0 — 0

STHE 1 0 1

Goals: Sophia Estep, 2'

By John William Howard
Sports Editor
Office: 503-435-5287
Email: jhoward@spotlightnews.net
Follow me on Twitter @JowardHoward

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