The score may look lopsided, with the Wilcox Chargers defeating the Gunderson Grizzlies by a 6-0 final on Monday night, but it was a much more competitive contest than last week’s 8-2 win over James Lick. The Chargers didn’t score until about the 20th minute and went into halftime holding just a modest 2-0 lead. Overall, progress was certainly evident for Wilcox. Gunderson proved to be a much faster and tougher opponent, despite their inability to garner any shots towards the Wilcox goal.
“I was very impressed with the pace, and speed, [including] the afterburners that some of the forwards for Gunderson had,” commented Chargers Head Coach Luis Lujan after the game. “As fast as they were, I felt that our defense was prepared for that. The one thing that is reassuring is we are seeing the fruits of our labor. Those sprints in practice, those sit-ups and two-and-a-half weeks of nothing but conditioning.”
“It was definitely a lot faster paced,” added senior captain Paige Jones, who would hit a shot off the post in the first half before scoring later in the game. “It wasn’t necessarily that the other team was playing slow [last week], I thought they were playing really well, it was just we finished both early and often last game.”
Monday’s game would remain scoreless until senior midfielder Darcie Massey broke through with a bad-angle shot arched nicely into the far upper corner. She would add a second goal later in the half to provide that 2-0 halftime advantage.
“They were awesome, I was so proud,” commented Jones on Massey’s two goals. “She got pushed up and it’s pretty nice, because even though we play central mid positions, we don’t always get the opportunities to score as much as a forward would. So the fact she got to finish those two, I was super happy for her.”
Jones and Massey, who consider themselves best friends on and off the field, haven’t actually played midfield together as a tandem until this season. Jones has mostly played as a center back, but coach Lujan has her up in the midfield to mix things up.
“We have had young ladies who have expressed to me ‘ideally I would like to be up front, or I would like to be on the left, or I am only right footed’ and sometimes I think that is limited thinking, you kind of close yourself off” responded coach Lujan about the lineup change. “I know Paige is strong as a defender if I need her, and she also has the mentality to distribute the ball as a midfielder. So we have combined her into a defensive midfielder. She knows she has defensive responsibilities, but when she has the ball going forward, it’s all about the attack.”
“I’ve always played center back, it’s been my position since freshman year,” recalled Jones on previous seasons. “But I’ve always been the type of player that loves to push the ball up. As I’ve progressed over the years I kind of realized that while I still need that central position, I should be playing more forward in the game. I think I play a lot better there. Part of the reason that I was playing center back in the first place is just because I’m bigger. However, I think [playing midfield] can benefit the team a lot, especially putting Darcie and I in the middle. We work really well together. We’re best friends along with teammates so we know each other really well and that interaction is going to be really good for our season.”
Juniors Valerie Valdivia and Sammie Discher, as well as freshman Olivia Gentry would each add goals of their own to go along with the scores from Massey and Jones. Gentry in particular showed a knack for perfectly placed long balls down the wings for Discher to run onto and feed crosses into the box. Coming off the bench as a substitute, Gentry delivered a starter-caliber performance. Her passes were neither too short nor too long, they were just right. I am told however, her nickname isn’t Goldylocks.
“The US women’s national team, they usually call the people that don’t start, ‘game changers’ and I think that’s something that Olivia brought, she changed the game up,” chimed Jones on her younger teammate. “That’s one thing I can say about the younger players is that even though the physicality might not be there, they give it 100% all the time. She added something new, that crisp pass, that desire, you could see it in her eyes.”
Perhaps one main area the team could improve upon is shot accuracy as a number of quality looks in the first half went high, wide, or right at the keeper.
“I got on them at halftime and said that it’s unacceptable,” noted coach Lujan on the inability to finish early on. “That cross, that sprint that the player provided is already half a goal, all you have to do is finish. It’s a simple touch, look to place the ball, get a nice clean touch on it and the work is done. So I got on the girls and told them that it has to be better going forward.”
Last, but certainly not least, Chargers sophomore goalkeeper Shayne Hern deserves mention for her play in the shutout victory. While she didn’t have to defend any shots, it was impressive that she was able to remain sharp without any consistent action. At one point Hern perfectly timed coming off her line to slide and grab a loose ball right before a Gunderson forward arrived. It would have likely been a tough shot to save, but instead Hern was able to prevent the shot attempt from even taking place.
Wilcox will have a few more preseason and tournament games through December before beginning league play Jan. 3 when they host Gunn (Palo Alto).