WARRENTON — In an early-season tournament Saturday, Mexico girls soccer split its pair of matches and made progress from a season-opening defeat the day before.
The Bulldogs traveled to Warrenton High School to participate in a six-team tournament during the opening weekend of prep girls soccer competition in Missouri and left with head coach Haley Schafer feeling overall pleased with how the games went.
Mexico lost their first game in the morning to Sullivan 1-0, letting in a shot early in the second half after going the entire first half withstanding 16 shots without conceding a goal. But their afternoon matchup against Elsberry several hours later went better with a 2-0 win, with junior forward Kyleigh Wayman scoring twice to pace the Bulldogs to victory.
For a team with a fresh defensive back line and that played Saturday without its starting goalkeeper, conceding only one goal in two games made Schafer sense that her team took steps in the right direction this weekend.
“We made some switches across the back line, some things that I think helped benefited our team more offensively and defensively,” Schafer said. “We’ve had three days outside (practicing), and now we’re out here playing three games in two days. We were kind of behind a little bit still, but we stepped up today with tired bodies.”
Sophomore center-back Amelia Runge is the only returning starter from Mexico’s back four defenders, which has resulted in a lot of early-season sorting in that area of the pitch. Junior center-back Kaylee Jones paired with Runge on Saturday, and the duo was fairly successful in getting in front of shots and helping to protect their net.
But right behind the back line presented a challenge: senior goalkeeper Payton Bledsoe was unavailable Saturday, so sophomore Nayeli Ruiz was put in between the poles. Fortunately for Mexico, she shined as a substitute. Ruiz made 11 saves against Sullivan and kept a clean sheet against Elsberry.
“She’s a very aggressive keeper and reads the ball well, even for a sophomore. I’m pretty sure she had double-digit saves today,” Schafer said of Ruiz’s successful fill-in. “She works very well with our two center backs...they communicate well and really feed off each other.”
The Bulldogs’ opening game Saturday morning consisted of Mexico defending relentless attack after relentless attack. Sullivan outshot Mexico 28-3 for the entire game, but only scored through a Caitlin Pohlman goal with 37:12 left in the second half.
Although the Eagles were firing shots one after another, the Bulldogs’ solid hands of Ruiz and enough pressure from the defensive back line were able to limit the damage.
Despite defeat, it was a much improved result from Friday’s season-opening game against Frederick, where the Bulldogs were routed 6-0 in what Schafer said was “a long 80 minutes.”
“Today, even with just a day’s worth of experience behind their back, was much improved,” Schafer said. “We really got back into the swing of things today. We really struggled in the middle and our back line (yesterday), but today we were able to win those 50-50 balls that really gave us so much trouble.”
Still without a goal scored two-and-a-half games into the new season, Mexico finally managed to hit the back of the net in their afternoon game against Elsberry.
A toe-poke goal from Wayman with 5:17 left in the first half finally got Mexico on the scoresheet, and she followed it up with another goal in the second half, scoring with 8:55 remaining in the game to clinch the Bulldogs’ first win of the season.
Mexico’s attack in general, after being largely shut down against Sullivan, came alive against Elsberry. Mexico outshot Elsberry 23-6, had 10 shots on target and dominated possession of the ball.
“We were definitely more purposeful in our actions during the second game,” Schafer said. “We really started connecting some passes, especially offensively. We have really scrappy forwards who can make things happen in the box, and it was nice to see them step up and finish their chances.”
Mexico returns to action at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Fatima.