What began as another of over a dozen corner kicks Warsaw took in the first round of the girls soccer sectional against Culver Academy became a defining moment of a 4-0 Tiger victory Tuesday night.
After Meredith Hollar uncorked her eighth shot of the game in the 54th minute, a low rocket that Academy keeper Olivia Fox had to deflect out of bounds for a corner, Elizabeth Van Wormer jogged to the corner flag. Placing the ball on the front edge of the arc, Van Wormer called out “four” to signify the organization of Warsaw’s set piece.
Rather than finding the head of a charging teammate, Van Wormer shocked everyone, including Fox, by curling the shot inside the back 90 of the crossbar and into the net for the second goal of the game. As Van Wormer screamed with delight, jumping into teammate Claire Snodgrass’ arms, the air of any hope Culver had of getting back into the game was completely gone.
“I just wanted to get the ball in the air, but I didn’t think it was anywhere near where it went,” Van Wormer said, who admitted she had never scored off a corner kick in her life. “Once that second goal went in, we really seemed to relax a lot more and play some more defense. It’s a lot easier to score one goal and tie the game than it is to score two goals.”
The first goal of the game was vintage Warsaw. A development on the right side of the field went through the decisive foot of forward Gabby Monroy, who crafted a slick pass to Hollar charging forward from the left. As Hollar connected for her 18th goal of the season and 60th of her career – one shy of Ashley Kitchens’ school record of 61 – it was almost as though it was long overdue 48 minutes into the match.
Hollar took nine shots in the game, seven more than Culver Academy took the entire night. CGA didn’t even have a shot on net until the 45th minute. Warsaw as a whole outshot CGA 19-2, but entered halftime tied 0-0 with plenty of hope having withstood the first half blitz.
“Their defenders wanted to win every battle against our forwards, and it wasn’t the case with our defenders against their forwards,” began Culver Academy head coach Nathaniel King. “The hunger they showed, their conviction to get to the ball first. That really was the difference.
“Credit to Warsaw, they played like reigning sectional champions. In order to be the best, you have to beat the best.”
Warsaw added to its lead in the 64th minute when Monroy collected a loose ball in the Culver 18 and tucked home one of the easier attempts of the night. Kelly Williams made it 4-0 when her 25-yard sailor caught Fox off her line and careened under the crossbar nine minutes from time.
“Culver was doing a great job of getting numbers back and making it difficult breaking them down. Their defense was very organized in the first half,” said Warsaw head coach Dan Miller. “We made a little adjustment at halftime to play a bit more direct. I thought with our speed with Meredith and some of our girls getting behind their defenders. Once we got that first goal, we thought we could get a few more. And we saw that happen.”
Warsaw keeper Abby Schue continued her dominance of the goal with just the two saves, but both were of the spectacular variety, notably a save in the 74th minute she pared over the crossbar that looked certain to break the shutout. Fox made 14 saves, including a pair of point-blank blocks on Hollar, before being lifted late in the match for a substitute.
Warsaw (10-4-2) advances to face old rival Wawasee (3-11-1) in the second game of the sectional semi-finals Thursday night. Plymouth and NorthWood will take the stage for game one Thursday, the winners scheduled to battle Saturday at 7 p.m. for the championship hardware. Miller is just glad to have the first win out of the way.
“Facing Wawasee could be a challenge, but its postseason play so anything can happen,” Miller said. “Every team is going to give their best shot and give it everything they can. We just have to go out and play as hard as we can and not taking anything for granted to get our result.”