Train rolls on
RUSSELL — Warren head coach Jeremy Bickling knew that his team would face a difficult test Wednesday, heading on the road to visit regional foe Eisenhower.
While the Knights fought hard for a full 80 minutes — something not every team has been able to do against the undefeated Dragons — Warren would ultimately prevail with its ninth shutout of the year, 4-0.
The win now has Bickling and company at 10-0 on the year in District 10 Region 3 play, while Eisenhower falls to 5-6.
“I expected the girls to play (hard) and it would be a big challenge,” Bickling said. “I mean it is a cross-county rivalry of sorts and even though the girls like each other and they are friends off the field I knew that it would be physical and a tough battle today for both teams.”
Despite Warren’s hot start to the year, Eisenhower coach Diana Elmquist realized that her team had a chance to present problems by using speed in transition.
“I feel like we have good ball movement and ball handling and our message was just that you need to have high pressure,” she said.
“You need to make sure you’ve got good coverage, head should be on a swivel looking for somebody that is open at all times. Our girls really know these girls, they grew up with them. I think they can compete, and if we wouldn’t have had a couple of mental breakdowns I think it could have been a 1-0 game, no problem. Those four goals … we let them slide a little bit.”
The Dragons would step on the gas early and often, picking up all four of their goals before intermission. In the seventh minute Kyliegh Wilson was able to find Kyra Wotorson for a shot that was ripped by goaltender Lilee Renninger to make it 1-0.
Seven minutes later, Warren showed the wide range of offensive options it possesses when Georgie Bickling was able to bend in a corner kick that could not be reached by Renninger to double up that lead. Eight minutes after that tally, Lennon Dailey found Wilson in an open lane to make it 3-0.
With two minutes to play in the opening period, Eliza Brook was able to block a clearing shot on the right side of the field and fight her way to empty space. Sending a clearing ball from right to left, Brook found Paige Johnson all alone near the 18-yard box, where the senior midfielder belted home a volley past the left side of Renninger.
“I think confidence and kind of getting that swagger going is important to them,” Bickling said. “Once they kind of turn the spigot on it is easy for them to kind of start piling some goals in. I think that is where some of those big wins come from. They just find that groove and the formula and finish well.”
Eisenhower was certainly not deflated by the four-goal margin, as the Knights earned several offensive opportunities early in the second half.
Elley Eastman let fly with a long shot from the right side that was hauled in by goaltender Alyssa Anderson, and the Knights were awarded a corner kick on the right end shortly after. Cassie Smelko got the call for that kick, and sent a ball into the six-yard box that was headed high over the Warren net for a goal kick.
After another right-side shot by Eastman, Warren would battle back on the rush with Bickling firing a shot in close that was grabbed by Renninger.
The Eisenhower netminder would show her merit down the stretch, turning away several chances in close in addition to defending corner kicks from the Dragons on her way to a 14-save night.
“She’s an excellent keeper, we’re really happy to have her. We have a nice backup keeper as well, and she does a good job,” Elmquist said.
While Warren goaltender Alyssa Andersen would record five saves, a busy night by her standards, many of those came from distance thanks to a tight defensive perimeter and midfield pressure on Eisenhower’s transition game.
“Even though they were giving up shots, we trust our keeper. She has only given up one goal, and that was a PK, all season,” Bickling said. “We are fine giving up shots knowing it would have to be the perfect shot from the perfect angle to go in. We didn’t see any of the shots that they had as any threats, they did a great job and shut them down. I think tonight we were a little inconsistent in our passing. I think we started a little slow passing out of the defense into the midfield, but they picked it up. The defense played a much better second half and they were fantastic. They knew what to give up in terms of position, because Eisenhower was going to try and force things on us, and they snuffed it out and let us play right back up the field.”