As the bleachers began to fill for the Lady Bulldogs soccer match, the scent of freshly cut grass rose into the air. The sun beamed down onto the pitch accompanied by a light breeze on a warm day. This was soccer weather. It was the perfect day for both Union teams to take former rival Freed-Hardeman to task in a pair of exhibition games by a combined score of 9-1.
The whistle sounded and without giving the audience time to settle into their seats, the Lady Bulldogs took control of the attacking third in an instant. They created a multitude of opportunities early on despite a few lapses in communication. They have complete command over the pace of the game.
After an onslaught of shots and a dominating presence in scoring position, the relentless determination wore Freed-Hardeman down. Taylor Knight, freshman, headed the ball over the keeper and placed it in perfect position at the feet of Shelby High, senior. High drilled the ball into the back of the net and began the barrage of goals throughout the game. High later received a through ball as she blazed past the defenders and found herself in a one on one with the keeper. She scored with ease, putting an end to the first half.
They came out in the second half just as abrasively, looking for any mistake by the opposition to take advantage of. Madison Studstill, junior, made the first of a copious number of goals in the second half. Just as the Lady Lions began to show signs of an upswing, Brooke Watson, Lady Bulldog sophomore, took the ball into the box and hit another shot right past the keeper.
Less than five minutes afterwards, Olivia Schmitke, senior, made a defender look silly as she dropped her to the ground with brilliant footwork and then yet another goal. Kaylyn Burroughs, freshman, also joined in the scoring fest before Studstill finished the Lady Lions off with her second goal of the half. The Lady Bulldogs won 6-0.
“Kristen Francis, our goal keeper, is always a good player,” said Isaac Brooks, Union head coach, when asked about impactful players. “Brooke Watson could be a special player and Shelby High, one of our seniors. It’s a really unique team and it’s going to be exciting to watch.”
Where the Lady Bulldogs stumbled at first to create clear communication, the men worked like a well oiled machine. The passes were crisp and accurate. They didn’t falter in their footwork and they were able to move the ball at will as a result. Unfortunately, this did not guarantee them good looks at the goal.
In fact, the game was caught in a hard fought gridlock for the entire first half. Neither team was willing to allow the other clean opportunities. It was a physical game all the way until the end. There were multiple incidents of excessive contact and words being exchanged.
“I think tonight we maybe just got frustrated,” said Zac Fletcher, Bulldogs’ senior. “There’s still a bit of rivalry there, which is good; you still want a bit of bite in it.”
Finally, in the ninth minute of the second half, Daniel Bile, senior, scored the first goal of the game for Union to end the stalemate. But it wasn’t long after until Enoch Chondol, junior, evened the score for the Lions. His shot hit the bottom of the crossbar but luck was on his side as the ball narrowly creeped over the line. William Valencia, sophomore, took the lead back for Union less than two minutes later. Then Miguel Vilas, sophomore, put the game away with an impressive shot to the upper 90 from well outside of the box. The Bulldogs won 3-1.
“I’m excited and we created a lot of good chances.” said Steven Cox, Union head coach. “[We] probably could have scored three or four more goals on the night.”
The Lady Bulldogs will face off against Rhodes College on Saturday, August 26, at home, and the men’s team plays again at home on Thursday, August 31, against the University of West Alabama.