The Arroyo Grande High girls soccer team was 10 minutes away from beginning its PAC 7 title defense with a loss, when coach Bob Wilson moved a group of three defenders and midfielders up front in hopes of generating more offense and, hopefully, an equalizer.
The decision paid immediate dividends, and the Eagles opened league play at home Friday night with a 1-1 tie against St. Joseph.
“They didn’t drop their heads, and they kept fighting,” Wilson said. “We sent a bunch of girls up top just to try and get a goal, and we got that corner kick.”
Senior Alyssa Nevis — a defender turned forward in the dire moments — earned a corner kick with 7:08 remaining in the second overtime and her team trailing the Knights by one.
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Junior Jane Summers sent the corner toward the near post, where sophomore Jalyn Schaefer used her head to flick the ball toward the goalmouth. That’s when junior Kiana Parker came sliding in to push the ball the last couple inches that had eluded the Eagles (6-4-2 overall, 0-0-1 PAC 7) for the first 90 minutes.
“I just thought, ‘Oh gosh, I’ve got to get this,’ ” Parker said.
“She made a great run and beat her defender,” Nevis said of Parker. “She did exactly what she was supposed to do.”
The Eagles earned two more corners late in the final overtime, but neither resulted in a scoring chance and the game ended in a draw.
“A lot of our girls are younger and seeing the field at this level for the first time,” Nevis said. “It’s an adjustment, and we’re all adjusting.”
With 11 players and 80 percent of its goals from a year ago gone, Arroyo Grande knew duplicating last year’s 10-1-1 league mark would be no easy task.
“I don’t think there’s going to be an easy game in the league this year,” Wilson said. “When you get these teams that you’re outplaying, you’ve got to win these home ones. We got a tie out of it instead.”
The inexperience showed at times, but so did promise. The Eagles carried play for the majority of the night, but couldn’t find the finishing touch to beat St. Joseph goalkeeper Ashlynn Zavala.
“Our finishing (has to change),” Nevis said. “we have everything else. We have the build up and the defense.”
After neither team found the back of the net in regulation, it took the Knights (6-3-3, 0-0-1) just one minute into overtime to take a 1-0 advantage.
St. Joseph forward Monique Brunello — the team’s leading goalscorer and the Arroyo Grande defense’s main focus — corralled a ball inside the 18-yard box. As three Eagle defenders converged, the senior slipped the ball to an open wing, where fellow senior Emily Brandt latched onto the pass.
Brandt lifted a shot high, which goalkeeper Kendall Bowers got a piece of but could not stop from falling into the net.
Arroyo Grande held the left-footed Brunello — who entered the game with 17 goals in 11 contests — in check for the majority of the match, but her assist put the visitors out in front.
“We were looking for her (left-footed shot) and knew that would be a major angle to watch for,” Wilson said. “She’s pretty high quality, but I think we were able to handle her for the most part.”
The Eagles nearly tied the score at the end of the first overtime, but a left-footed attempt by Parker was punched over the crossbar by Zavala.
“Their goalie made a couple really nice saves,” Wilson said. “We also missed some shots we should have finished on, but I was proud of the kids for finishing (the game) up.”
Parker got her revenge in the second overtime.
“It was a very intense game,” Parker said. “Our team fought really hard, and I was really happy we got that goal.”
The Eagles lost 58 of the 71 goals they scored last year, including Nadine Reed’s 21, which are with her at Arizona State.
This year’s squad has yet to develop the finishing touch consistently, but Nevis — a co-captain with senior Christina Lang — said the the team is willing and working to improve.
“We’re not the kind of team that sits and mopes over giving up a goal,” Nevis said. “That attitude comes a lot from the older girls who were with the team last year and seeing that we can come back and win some games.”
That attitude wasn’t enough to earn a win Friday, but Wilson said Arroyo Grande’s resolve is a sign of good things to come.
“We tied that game early by not finishing when we should have,” he said. “But in the long run, being able to fight back like that is going to pay off.”