The Rolla girls soccer team opened their season with their annual tournament on Friday and Saturday, Mar. 15-16. The Lady Bulldogs fought tooth and nail to come out with two scoreless ties against Springfield Catholic and Northwest on Friday, before grinding out a 2-2 tie with Borgia on Saturday. It was the first time since 2008 that Rolla finished their home tournament without a loss.
The Lady Bulldogs opened the weekend against Springfield Catholic Friday afternoon. Rolla controlled the pace of the game most of the afternoon, but their young forwards couldn't quite find a way to break through for an ideal shot on goal. The Lady Bulldog mid-fielders worked overtime on Friday, as Springfield Catholic never made consistent runs at Kate Brand in goal. Rolla had a few decent looks, but never found the back of the net in a scoreless tie.
Rolla then had to fight some adversity in the second game of the night against Northwest. The Lady Lions were fresh off a 3-1 win over Borgia, so the Lady Bulldogs were going to have to step up again on defense. As the game continued, they also had to fight some injuries. Kendall Mara, Rolla's top defender, started to struggle with cramping in the first half and sat the entire second half. Freshman Abby Turner also injured her knee, which forced her to the bench in the second half. The shorthanded Lady Bulldogs stepped up and kept the high-powered Northwest offense off the scoreboard and got an excellent performance from Brand along the way. Unfortunately, the Rolla offense couldn't get much going all night long and the game ended with another scoreless tie.
After a little bit of time to rest, the Lady Bulldogs were back to full strength against Borgia Saturday morning. Unfortunately, it took a couple of minutes for Rolla to fully wake up, as a mishandled ball led to a Borgia goal in the second minute. After the shutout streak was snapped, the Lady Bulldogs bounced back into gear. Rolla scored their first goal of the season four minutes later when Jaelyn Grommet found the ball in a crowded box and put a shot in the back of the net, tying the game at one with her first career goal. The assist on the goal came from Kate Mallory. Rolla got a few great looks before the half, including shots from Mercedez Carpenter, Grommet and Turner, but couldn't quite connect for a goal, as they went into the half locked at one.
Borgia was able to break the tie midway through the second half, but Rolla wasn't ready to pack it in. Eight minutes after the Borgia goal, Ellie Rodgers found Turner sprinting down the left side of the field. The freshman used her wheels to burst past the defense and fire a shot on goal. She connected, scoring the first goal of her career to lock the game up again at two. Rolla and some good looks in the final 14 minutes, but couldn't find a goal as they finished the tournament with three ties, capping things off with a 2-2 draw with Borgia. While the Lady Bulldogs would've loved to see a win, head coach Mike Howard was happy with how is team played all weekend and that they managed to finish the tournament without a loss.
"Last year at this time we were 0-3 already," said coach Howard. "To be 0-0-3 and three, come away with three ties and, I mean, we were behind twice in this game and came back and tied it up. Those are all good signs...Probably with a little bit of luck we finish this tournament with three wins, but that's alright. It's early in the season, we'll get better."
Despite a slight miscue on Saturday morning, Brand had a great weekend in goal. The keeper position was one of the question marks coming into the season, because Brand missed a lot of early practices because she was with the basketball team. Coach Howard was impressed with what he saw out of Brand, particularly Saturday night.
"I thought in the Friday night game she played fabulous," said the Rolla head coach. "She didn't make any mistakes, bobbled one ball maybe. Today we give up that early goal, but it's going to happen...all in all she played pretty well."
Early in the season, the biggest adjustment will be continuing to work on the offense. Two of Rolla's bigger scoring threats are freshmen, so they're still getting used to the varsity level. Coach Howard saw some good improvement out of both Grommet and Turner as the tournament went on.
"I think maybe we're just asking them to do stuff they haven't had to do before, so once we get some practice time and we can watch some film, I think we can be a dangerous team up top," said coach Howard. "If someone told me going into the weekend that we're only going to score two goals, I would've been shocked. The potential is there to get better for sure."
This is always a tough tournament because of how much soccer is played in such a short time frame. Coach Howard was proud of how his team fought through being tired and achy and continued to grind through games and come out without taking a loss.
"We told them they can play tied and play hurt and you can do it and be successful, they did it last night," said the Rolla head coach. "It is what is it is, it's a great weekend. It's a very tough tournament every year. I don't remember the last time we won a game in this tournament and I definitely don't remember the last time we didn't lose a game. It's been quite a while. It's a great weekend to be honest with you."
At the end of the day, this tournament is about getting better and the Lady Bulldogs got better.
"Don't get caught up in results, especially early. Just try to do things right and get better every day," said coach Howard. "We definitely got better as the weekend went on."
The Lady Bulldogs will stay at home for a pair of games this week as they host Republic on Tuesday and Jefferson City on Thursday.