Defense thrives for Juniata

MIFFLINTOWN – There were a few what ifs and could have beens for both Juniata and East Juniata when the teams squared off on the girls soccer pitch Thursday in Mifflintown.

However, some superlative defense by the Indians and a few unlucky breaks for the Tigers turned out to be crucial as the 2-1 contest put Juniata at 2-0 for the start of the season while the Tri-Valley League defending champion Tigers are still searching for a win.

East Juniata was the first to light up the board when a wide open Hannah Scholl sent a rocket toward the goal that took an odd turn on the way, apparently deflecting off Juniata defender Anna Hershey and into the net for the 1-0 lead with 27:33 left in the half.

The unconventional goal put the Tigers up in a contest in which, to that point, a shot had been hard to buy for either team. But Juniata came back with a quick answer when 30 seconds later Janelle Swartz took advantage of a direct kick to lift a perfect shot from the upper-right corner of the box to Carly Burns, who rushed in for a header and the score.

The game then remained tied through the rest of the half and seven minutes into the second when Swartz and Burns connected on a near mirror-image reproduction of their first goal to give the Indians the final lead, 2-1.

From there the story of the game became evident – the Indians had done what they needed to do on offense, they just needed to make sure the Tigers wouldn’t do the same to retake the lead.

“We had probably just an eight-minute span where we went on our heels. And they had a couple good opportunities in that span. A real gutsy performance from our defense tonight just to weather the storm and get through it,” said Juniata coach Brian Strawser, whose team fought hard to maintain the lead throughout the second half as an offensive resurgence by the Tigers put them on the ropes several times.

Led by forwards McKayla Goodling and Amber Knouse, East Juniata increased its offense tremendously in the second half – putting up 11 second-half shots to its four first-half shots – as one close play after another put the Tigers within inches of tying the game, but they could never quite bury the shot.

“(The) first half was a bundle of nerves for us, and second half to me it looked like we were kind of controlling it and getting opportunities, but just not getting them in. A couple of those I thought, ‘Oh man, it’s upper corner.’ But they battled through but just came up short again,” East Juniata coach Lori Goodling said.

In their comeback attempt, the Tigers had several shots that were just wide of the mark or deflected by Winey – most notably being back-to-back diving saves from Winey around the 20-minute mark when both McKayla Goodling and Scholl got open for near-scores, and a break-away moment when Knouse pulled Winey out of the goal on a one-on-one scenario, but caromed the shot off the top right corner of the goal to just miss tying the game.

“(Joelle) came up big. It was nice to see her tested and to see how she we would react to that,” Strawser said, explaining that it was nice to see Winey coming through with the tough defense she had been characterized by in years before.

“You hope it’s still there, and she showed tonight that it’s still there,” he said.

Another presence on defense for the Indians was Burns, who controlled on the air and ground at midfield.

Straswer described Burns as, “somebody who’s really tough. She has some good height and she’ll go up and win that ball in the air.”

And of course, as her two goals that she headed into the goal can testify, her work in the air not only plays off on the defense, but can result in offensive production, too.

For Lori Goodling and the Tigers, it was disappointing to start the season at 0-2, but she doesn’t see any discouragement from the girls.

“They’re not (discouraged) because there’s times we look out there and we’re the better team on the field and they are controlling it, it’s just that we can’t get dangerous. It’s just we get too shy or skitz out with the ball in front of the net. Those are things that we definitely have to work on,” she said.

The Tigers only have three returning starters from last year, so as Goodling explained, they’re still looking for the right combinations, trying to sure up on the defense and improving their effectiveness on offense. However, for the work still left to be done, the Tigers have put up a fight with two tough competitors (Midd-West and Juniata), and Goodling sees where her team has a lot of potential to win.

“We just need a whole, consistent game. If we would play both halves like (the second half), I think it could have been a different story,” she said.

Juniata (2-0, 2-0) travels to Line Mountain Tuesday. The Tigers (0-2, 0-1) host Altoona 2 p.m. on Saturday.