It was cold. Nobody was disputing that.
But not once during Friday's 1-0 victory against Lansing High did the Free State High girls soccer players question why they were out there.
“We play no matter what. That’s the rule,” said FSHS sophomore Amanda Moyer of the game played in temperatures that dipped below 30 degrees with wind chills dropping thermometer readings even lower. “That’s how we go into every game, and we try to use that attitude to our advantage.”
Playing just their second game of the season, that approach seemed to work for the Firebirds, who out-chanced the Lions throughout the game and outshot them in both halves.
In the first half, the Firebirds used their defensive pressure to create offensive chances. Time and again the Firebirds stood strong in the midfield and turned their defensive stops into breakaway runs for their forwards. The transition didn’t always lead to shots, but it set the tone for the contest.
“We saw some glimmers of things we worked on and improved in a few areas,” FSHS coach Jason Pendleton said. “Particularly our defensive pressure. The season’s a marathon, not a sprint. And I’d say we’re entering mile four of a 26-mile race and we have yet to hit our stride.”
The cold weather never factored into the game, at least not for those on the field. The players sitting on the benches and 60 or so fans in the stands, however, huddled together under the cover of heavy jackets, stocking caps, pants and blankets in an attempt to stay warm.
“I must have texted coach P three or four times today asking if we were still playing,” junior Hannah Carlson said. “But he always tells us not to acknowledge the weather. We just try to go out there and do our jobs, and the rest takes care of itself.”
Carlson was at the center of most of the action for the Free State offense on Friday. Late in the first half, she ripped a shot to the net that was saved by the foot of the Lansing goalkeeper. Moyer snagged the rebound and rocked a shot of her own off the near post. A second rebound landed on the foot of sophomore Rachael Hodison, but her shot sailed wide.
“I definitely thought mine was in,” Moyer said. “But Hannah, Rachael and I all had a shot and that’s all that matters.”
It was that type of relentless pursuit that led to the Firebirds’ lone goal. With the teams tied at 0-0 at the half, Free State came out sharp in the second, sending two solid shots at the Lansing net within the first eight minutes. Ten minutes later, the Firebirds broke through.
Carlson again started the threat, flipping a lob pass to Kylee Loneker on the right side of the goal. Instead of shooting, Loneker spotted Madisyn Warinner in front and sent the ball to her teammate with her head. There, Warinner gained possession and slipped a shot to the left of the LHS goalie and into the back of the net.
The victory improved the Firebirds to 1-1 on the season, but, more importantly, 1-0 on their new home field.