Tigers clip rivals’ wings in Round 1

Sentinel photo by MATT STRICKER
East Juniata’s Eleana Benner, left, and Juniata’s Lilli Reed fight to win the ball Tuesday in Cocolamus.

COCOLAMUS — The East Juniata girls soccer team carries one fitting theme this year, finishing off victories with the team congregating as one player chants the words ‘chugga-chugga’ and the rest finishing the statement with ‘choo-choo’ — then the first player blows on a train whistle.

“We always said it is very hard to stop a train when it’s moving, and it’s going to be very hard to stop these girls when they are moving,” East Juniata coach Valeria Dressler said. “We are going to bring it the whole way, we hope.”

That motto held true Tuesday evening in a 9-0 home win over cross-county rival Juniata in a Tri-Valley League contest.

The Tigers (13-1-1, 9-0) were aggressive early and often, displaying great footwork, closing speed to the ball and creating plenty of passing and eventually scoring lanes. It just seemed no matter what the Tigers did, it worked out well in their favor.

Hailey Swartz, Paige Crissman and Thea Neimond helped East Juniata take full advantage of a Juniata team that isn’t playing its best right now.

“I hate to say it, but we kind of saw this coming,” Juniata coach Brian Strawser said. “The whole season when you’re playing only so many good minutes of soccer a game and don’t get yourself into a groove and doing things against opponents that you used to dominate and now not dominating anymore — EJ is playing really good soccer right now.

“You can do that and beat the teams that aren’t quite as good, but you can’t do that and beat the good teams, and it showed tonight.”

After Crissman and Neimond scored the game’s first three goals, Swartz closed out the opening half with a natural hat trick — before adding on a fourth consecutive goal to start the Tigers’ scoring in the second half.

Two of those goals came off back-to-back East Juniata corner kicks with the same setup in which Swartz got strong kicks past Indians’ goalkeeper Kali Foltz.

Strawser calls the Indians allowing goals in similar style on the corners “inexcusable.”

Swartz capped off the night with five goals, notching both her’s and the team’s final score with 14 minutes left to play.

“She just had so much fire tonight,” Dressler said. “She was ready to go and I’m imagining in her head she wanted it because those shots, there was no stopping them. I’m thinking mentally, she wanted this and she’s showing it.”

Juniata picked up the pace some in the second half, but it couldn’t do much to gain control of the ball and put some pressure on the Tigers defense. Foltz, though, picked up on the ball better, peaking with four saves in span of a minute. She finished with 14 in the contest.

Despite Juniata’s (9-8-1) recent struggles to go along with East Juniata’s strength of play, the result still surprised Dressler.

“It’s a great feeling to be a first year coach and win the game,” she said. “We were very impressed with their work ethic today and they were just ready to go right from the start. It was such a great feeling, there’s no letdowns and they were just ready to put this game away.”

The Indians didn’t get their first shot on goal until roughly 10 minutes were left in the game. And despite playing the team’s best offensive player, Josie Swartz, as a defender, Strawser said the team would have struggled regardless.

He’s had some time to think of the team’s struggles and compares it to baseball.

“Just this morning driving to school, I thought the best analogy would be like a baseball player who’s in a hitting slump. … That baseball looks like a pea coming in there, and right now we’re not playing with very much confidence,” he said. “The little things that we’ve been able to do in the past, we’re not doing that this year. (It’s) not that we can’t, we’ve shown spurts of where we can, but it just hasn’t been nearly consistent enough.”

The two teams get back into action against one another as the Indians play host to the Tigers on Thursday.

East Juniata 9, Juniata 0

First half

EJ — Paige Crissman (Thea Neimond), 32:18; EJ — Neimond, 27:37; EJ — Neimond (Crissman), 18:14; EJ — Hailey Swartz (Carly Beaver), 13:44; EJ — Swartz (Crissman), 11:50; EJ — Swartz, 3:14.

Second half

EJ — Swartz, 35:38; EJ — Kierstyn Fogle, 30:22; EJ — Swartz, 14:00.

Shots: EJ 22-3. Corners: EJ 5-2. Saves: J-14 (Kali Foltz); EJ-2 (Lily Sankey)