The Tooele girls soccer team is a work in progress, but if the Buffaloes’ first game of the season is a sign of anything, they’re progressing quickly.
While the Buffs finished on the wrong side of Thursday’s 4-0 score against Hunter at Tooele High School, coach Stephen Duggan was quite pleased with his team’s debut — particularly after they had to replace 15 graduating seniors, including 10 starters from last year’s squad, during the offseason.
“I think the score line’s not reflective,” Duggan said. “At this level, it’s experience that counts. There’s a lot to build on. It’s not this game or the next game or four games’ time that will define them — it’s where we are at the end of the season. When we get to our last game of the season, has our level of performance improved? That’s what our season’s going to be defined by.”
Tooele (0-1) got its first game off to an inauspicious start, with nerves leading to mistakes in front of its own goal. Ultimately, one of those mistakes led to a breakaway for Hunter’s Whitney Blanchard, who fired the ball past Buffs goalkeeper Maddy Lyman for a 1-0 lead in the 10th minute.
“That first goal — could we have defended better? Yeah,” Duggan said. “I’d rather see a mistake like that and concede a goal and know what we have to fix. We did fix it — they didn’t get in behind us as much after that and we contained it a lot better.”
After that, however, the Buffs calmed down. While Hunter continued to get shots on goal, few — if any — of them were truly dangerous. Meanwhile, Tooele’s MaKenna McCloy used her speed to give the Buffs some scoring opportunities, though their timing wasn’t quite good enough to convert them into goals.
In fact, it took until the 65th minute for the visiting Wolverines to truly take control of the contest. A Tooele foul gave Hunter a free kick from the left wing from about 25 yards out, and the initial attempt was knocked down by Lyman. However, the Tooele goalkeeper couldn’t corral the rebound, and Blanchard was right there to knock it past her for a two-goal advantage.
Hunter turned up the pressure from there, generating a corner kick just two minutes later. The initial attempt bounced off the right goalpost before bouncing off Wolverines senior Bailee Spring and past Lyman for a 3-0 lead.
The pressure continued, as Lyman got stepped on during a scramble in front of her goal, limiting her mobility. That led to Hunter’s fourth goal, as Yissel Navarro fired a long shot that bounced in off the crossbar with Lyman unable to leap to deflect it away.
“For the first hour — huge signs of encouragement,” Duggan said. “They kept their shape well, they defended well and they weren’t easy to break down. I’m highly encouraged by them — I couldn’t be prouder. There’s a lot of spirit and a lot of fight there.”