By PATRICK MacCOON
Walker Valley knew it would be tough to break through against the all-time leading Cleveland goalkeeper in career saves.After all, the Lady Mustangs head coach referred to Lauren Stutzman as ‘Hope …
Walker Valley knew it would be tough to break through against the all-time leading Cleveland goalkeeper in career saves.
After all, the Lady Mustangs head coach referred to Lauren Stutzman as ‘Hope freaking Solo’ after the Lady Blue Raider senior standout garnered 19 saves in the District 5-AAA semifinals match Tuesday night.
“We knew they were going to make it hard for us and sit nine people behind the ball and say just break us down,” WVHS fifth-year head coach Nathan Brown said. “We just had to be patient and make our shots count against a very strong defense.”
While the Lady Mustangs were turned away on 17 of their first 18 shots on goal, a constant bombardment on goal led to four scores in the final 21 minutes of a 5-nil victory.
First-seeded Walker Valley (11-2-2) will host the district championship match against county rival No. 3 Bradley Central (9-6-2) Thursday at 5 p.m.
“I’m super proud of these girls and blessed to coach them,” Brown said. “They have worked hard and this was their first goal on a long list to host the district championship. They kept on grinding. To win 5-0 against a rival is pretty big in the district semifinals.”
Helping provide a sense of calmness early with timely instincts for Walker Valley (10-2-2) was not one of the eight seniors, but rather a newbie to the postseason.
Instead of watching senior Emily Caylor hammer a shot on goal from the right side, freshman forward Macy Gibson sped down the middle of the box and soon after tapped in a loose ball from just a couple of feet out.
A 1-0 lead in the 13th minute would turn out to make all the difference.
“All my life really my parents have coached me to crash the goal because a lot of times it intimidates the goalkeeper and causes them to make a mistake,” said Gibson, who has six goals this season. “Whenever I started doing it and started to see it worked, it has become a habit of mine ever since.”
The first half had a bunch of close calls for the Lady Mustangs, as senior forward Caitlin Dickson just missed on a pair of headers off strong crosses and Stutzman continuously leapt to make incredible saves on high percentage shots.
Cleveland’s talented keeper, who finished with 159 saves (8.4 pg) this season, faced pressure constantly against an opponent she saved a career-high 25 shots against during her sophomore season.
“I left my whole heart out there on that field,” said Stutzman, who will play at Lee University next season. “I was ready to have a busy night because it has always been like this when we play them.”
Keying the late second half scoring for WV was Gibson once again.
Showcasing her speed and ability to create, the impact first-year player looked ready to try a shot on goal, but instead scooped underneath and sent in a perfect pass for senior standout Taylor Ellis, whose header built a 2-0 lead in the 59th minute.
“My coaches have definitely been really encouraging to me,” said Gibson, who had only played recreational league soccer before this season. “They told me they saw a lot of potential in me and that gave me confidence from the start. The key for me is to stop thinking and just play.”
Meanwhile, Gibson’s older sister, senior Annie Kate Gibson, put forth 60 minutes of shutout soccer and had a pair of saves in her first match back from an injury.
“I think the biggest thing about the Gibsons is they are teachable and moldable,” Brown said. “They are very astute, smart and able to apply it onto the field right away. They have been a huge addition for us.”
Senior WV keeper Mckenna Carson also had 20 minutes of shutout action in front of net to shutout the fifth-seeded Lady Blue Raiders (8-10-1).
A persistent attack from Caylor led to a season-high two goals. Her ninth goal of the season came as she angled in an untouched shot off the far left post that ricocheted across the line for a 5-0 lead with four minutes left.
Fellow senior Bailey Scarborogh found the back of the net as well, as she helped the Lady Mustangs score three times off deflected shots.
“You couldn’t really do anything about the way they scored,” CHS head coach Miles Christian said. “Lauren played an outstanding game and has a whole lot of soccer left to play.
“It was a pleasure to coach these seniors. They showed up to practice every day with a smile on their face and positive attitudes. They have set the standards high for those who will come after them.”
With an upset victory just up the road a Bradley County themed district championship will occur Thursday at 5 p.m. when Walker Valley takes on Bradley Central.
The Lady Mustangs are 13-1 with a 61-9 goal advantage when facing the Bearettes or Lady Blue Raiders over the past five seasons since Brown’s regime took over.
“Bradley does have a couple of dangerous players on offense you have to look out for in Anna Stouffer and Cambree Mayo,” Brown said. “I have told the girls, though, if we play our game we will be fine. That is move the ball, select our shots well and get them on target.”
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