Undefeated Conference Champs

On Monday, April 26th, your Lady Redskins traveled up to Edenton to take on the Lady Aces for the Albemarle Athletic Conference championship game. In their previous fixture, Manteo bested the Aces by a score of 8-3. However flattering the score-line appeared to be, the Aces have offensive firepower up top, and are certainly a formidable opponent that Manteo would need to be at their best in order to win.

The Aces final home game of the regular season boasted senior night, a large crowd, and eager players ready for redemption. If Manteo were to win the game, they would hold the title of undefeated conference champions. If Edenton were to take the game in hand, both teams would be named conference co-champions, and a coin would be flipped in regards to who takes the higher playoff seed.

The game kicked off with with the Aces on the front foot, pressing high up the pitch, and looking to attack down their overloaded right flank. The early minutes saw a series of throw-ins, free kicks, and corner kicks for the Aces as Manteo looked to settle in and find their form. They weathered the storm and begin to get back on the ball in an effort to test the back four of the Aces.

Near the ten minute mark of the first half, Manteo sprung to life, as Keylin Zavala received a pass from Emma Ortega in the central midfield. Zavala drew the attention of both center-backs, executed a half turn, and slotted Cici Lowe behind the backline on the right flank. Lowe used her pace to win the ball first, used two touches to work the ball down into the 18-yard box, and then slotted the ball into the backside of the far post. It was a clinical finish but the flag had gone up and she was ruled offsides by the narrowest of margins. Despite the goal being called back, Manteo took some momentum from the strike, and would look to exploit the backline in the same manner in the future.

Minutes later, Lowe made a skill move around a defender in order to get off a shot near the top of 18-yard box. The ball was struck well and on target, but a fully extended diving save from the goal keeper parried the ball away from goal and back out into play. The rebound fell to Amy Rios Tovar atop the six-yard box. As she took a collecting touch, the defense was able to recover and knock the ball out of bounds on the sideline.

Angelica Landazuri took the resulting throw-in on the left flank. Landazuri launched the ball deep into the 18-yard box. The ball sailed over the heads of several defenders and took a bounce in front of a defender siting in front of the goal. Lowe tracked the bouncing ball into the box, waited patiently for the ball to come back down, and then volleyed the ball calmly into the back of the net with her side foot. The goal gave Manteo the lead with just thirteen minutes having been run off the clock.

In the following five minutes of play, Edenton was eager to draw level and was ramping up their attacking play. A foul from behind in the 18-yard box by a Manteo defender gave the Aces a penalty kick. Edenton’s leading scorer stood over the ball, ready to level the score. Her strike was low and just to the left of goalkeeper, Montana Miller. Miller read the direction of the shot and side stepped quickly to her side while dropping down. The ball deflected off Miller’s shin, and then deflected off the inside of the post. The ball quickly came right back to Miller on the ground. Her initial corral fumbled the ball back out in front of her but she was able to leap onto the ball and cover it up just before the attacking players of Edenton could get a second shot off. It was a brilliant and vital save to stymie the Aces momentum and hopes of regaining their footing in the game.

Miller came up big again just five minutes later after seeing a near post cross sit pretty inside the box. She sprung off her line and dove on the ball as the attacking player crashed into her. The forceful collision saw both ladies tumble about, but both were able to continue play unharmed.

On the offensive end, Manteo continued their efforts to play Lowe in behind the backline, allowing her to use her pace to create one on one’s with the goal keeper. Midway through the first half, Lowe saw a one verse one opportunity denied by the keeper. Shortly after, Lowe would make her next attempt on goal count.

Ortega began the play by coming back behind the midline to win the ball and faced up her pressing defender, taking a touch wide around her. As the initial defender looked to recover on the ball, the center-back was pulled up to contest the ball as well. Lowe came sprinting by on the overlap down the left flank. Ortega played a well timed pass, springing Lowe into open space on the run. Lowe dribbled the ball into the box at full pace, and then side stepped the recovering center-back, drawing the goal keeper to one side of the goal. After beating the defender with the move and positioning the goal keeper as she pleased, Lowe cut the ball back across the goal, on the ground, and into the side netting to give Manteo a 2-0 lead before the half.

Manteo began the second half with that 2-0 lead, knowing all too well that the next forty minutes would be difficult, as the Aces have not been shut out all year. Both sides knew that one more goal scored for either side would completely change the dynamics of the game.

In the first ten minutes of play in the second half, Manteo presented the stronger attacking side. Landazuri was unlucky not net a third goal for Manteo after pressing hard on their midfielder, turning her over, and streaking down the left wing before firing off a shot that ruffled the outside netting on the near post.

Edenton’s attack began to take shape, primarily all run down their right flank. The Manteo backline of Thalia Gomez, Eva Klauser, and Hannah Hogan stayed quite busy chasing down the attacking Aces, but they did well to keep them at bay for the most part and negate any truly threating attempts on goal.

With the conference title on the line, things heated up with physical play and hard challenges from both sides. Before the second half mask break, Manteo was awarded a free kick on the right side of their attacking third. Zavala lofted the ball into the 18-yard box and Ortega brought it down, laying it over to Lowe on the run in. Lowe got off a shot with a defender on her back that saw another diving save from the goal keeper. The ball deflected across the goal in the six-yard box. As the keeper scrambled to to get to her feet, Rios Tovar ran in on the ball for the follow up shot. With the goalie and a defender closing in on her, she got her shot off only to see it clank off the near post and back out wide.

With thirteen minutes remaining in the game, Lowe earned her hat-trick on the evening. Ortega again came back behind the midline to receive the ball, pulling the center-backs up with her. She used a pull-back to beat her pressing defender before sending the through ball out wide to Lowe on the run. Lowe’s marker was stride for stride with her as she took two dribbles down into the edge of the 18-yard box. She then cut the ball back and to the inside, seeing the defender stumble to the ground on the move. She eyed the near post of a well positioned goal keeper and slotted it home to give Manteo a much more comfortable 3-0 lead.

In the final ten minutes of the game, Edenton pushed bodies forward in an effort to inch back into the game. Manteo looked to remain strong defensively while sending long balls for counter attacks with Ortega and Erica Sawyer up top. Sawyer nearly netted her first goal on a break away only to see the goalie come up big with another great save.

On the other end, Edenton saw a long range shot ping off the crossbar, and a near post shot in the final minute swallowed up by Miller. The whistle blew and the Redskins were the undefeated conference champions.

Coach Cleaver stated after the game, “I’m so proud of our girls for their efforts tonight. We played with a lot of heart and we played intelligently, and in a manner that was useful to get the win. Our defensive players were huge all night, winning their one on one battles and keeping the clean sheet. Miller had big time saves for us as well. Ortega played a big role tonight, occupying multiple defenders in the middle to free up one on ones for Lowe, allowing her to display her pace and skill on the finishing end. The midfield trio of Twiford, Zavala and Landazuri worked hard tonight to muck it up in the midfield, keeping their attacking players off the ball more often than not. This was a great team win as everyone contributed in meaningful ways.”

Game stats:

Cici Lowe: 3 goals

Emma Ortega: 2 assists

Angelica Landazuri: 1 assist

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