Grizzly girls’ soccer gets first glance at season

The Lassen High Grizzlies are ready to kick it into gear for the upcoming soccer season.

Over the first weekend of December, the Grizzly girls’ soccer team traveled to Oroville, California to play in their first pre-season tournament.

The first game was against the Winters Warriors on Friday, Dec. 2. The first half of the game allowed the girls to show off the skills already in their possession.

Coach Bob Nielsen said, “The game started off with a strong showing by the Lassen defense, allowing just one shot the entire first half, which was saved by senior goalkeeper Jordan McCloughan. Underclassmen Paige Martin and Lily Buehler gained the attention of the Warriors as they controlled the midfield and caused problems up front. While the Grizzlies put together some good combinations and maintain some possession, the Warriors kept the pressure on the Grizzlies.”

While the Grizzlies were unable to make a goal during the first half of the game, they still worked together to make their defensive line strong enough to prevent a Warrior goal.

The Grizzlies managed to piggyback on their experiences of the first half, thus the defensive line was able to keep in the rhythm against Winters.

Coach Nielsen said, “In the second half, Lassen again had a fine defensive showing, led by Captain Morgan Martin.”

The defensive energy used throughout the game came with a price, however. As game play continued, the Grizzlies began to slip a few defensive mistakes. The Warriors used the opportunity and ended up with two in the net. One of the Warriors’ points was a breakaway while the other was a result of a penalty kick.

“Sophomore keeper Lexie Robinson did all she could to keep the Grizzlies in the game, making a couple of fine saves, but the final score was 2-0,” said coach Nielsen.

The game was still a win for Lassen as it gave the girls a glimpse into what they will be facing during the season and how they can better themselves. Lassen decided to award Paige Martin as the Player of the Game.

Next on the list for Lassen were the tournament hosts, the Oroville Tigers.

Within the last year, Oroville has been able to build their team enough to begin a junior varsity program. As a result, a majority of the varsity players were in their junior or senior year of school. While this is a huge advantage for the Tigers, the Grizzlies do not necessarily favor the change.

Lassen, on the contrary, has a team of mostly underclassmen as the 2016 graduating class took a toll on the girls’ soccer program. Of the many talented Grizzlies who were named starters, five were freshmen.

Regarding the game, coach Nielsen said, “As the game got underway, the Lady Grizzlies looked out of their element. The Tigers played well on the turf, controlling the pace and tempo of the game. Lassen could not seem to get more than a couple of passes strung together, but the defense stood strong and defended Oroville’s attacks very solidly.

“In the waning minutes of the first half, the Tigers took an outside shot that slipped between defenders and the keeper to put Oroville up 1-0.

“The second half was slightly better, with the defense standing up every Tiger attack, but the Lassen side couldn’t muster much offensive spark, and the game ended without any further scoring.”

The Player of the Game was awarded to freshman player and starter Kaitlyn Nakanishi.

The Grizzlies returned to the grass to face the Sutter Huskies on Saturday, Dec. 3.

According to coach Nielsen, Lassen started the game a little worse for wear, and for the first 10 minutes, it looked like Lassen would be blown away.

However, as the game continued, the Grizzly girls began to show that their head truly was in the game. They were in it to win it.

Robinson made a few saves in the goal to keep the Huskies at bay. Nielsen said the defense kept just enough distance between the shooter and the goal that the score stayed tied at 0-0.

The Grizzlies started to feel antsier than before and the threat of a Lassen goal was too much to handle. The girls took a dive and began to make some dangerous plays on the goal, but the Huskies stayed directly in the way, preventing Lassen from pulling the trigger to make a good shot.

As soon as the Grizzly threat seemed too much for the Huskies to handle as a pack, one lone player decided to take her chances against the Grizzlies. Coach Nielsen said, “A Sutter striker snuck past 3 defenders after a poor clearance and beat the keeper to get their only score of the game.”

The Grizzlies then channeled their frustration into their game play for the second half. The girls clearly found their rhythm as the final 20 minutes of the game were under complete control of Lassen High.

According to coach Nielsen, Gabi Nielsen came out of defense to send a free kick floating into the box, over the defense and out of the keeper’s grasp after a hard foul by the Huskies. Then a couple of Lassen’s attackers got a foot on it, and Gwyn Stubbs put it in the upper corner of the net, but the offside flag went up from the assistant referee and the goal was called back.

Soon after, Lily Francois made her way around the defense and got a break away opportunity, but the Sutter keeper made a sliding grab to keep Lassen from their desire to score.

“When the final whistle blew, the Grizzlies were on the wrong side of the 1-0 score,” said coach Nielsen.

The Lassen Player of the Game against the Sutter Huskies was freshman Buehler.

With a 0-3 record for the tournament, the Grizzlies were clearly hungry for a win. Their last chance was against the Las Plumas Thunderbirds, and Lassen intended to make the most of the opportunity.

Nakanishi was a major factor to Lassen’s immediate advantage pf the game. Nakanishi was able to anchor the defensive line. Meanwhile, the Martin sisters were able to successfully lead the offensive attacks as strikers. Between Nakanishi and the Martins, Lassen began with control over the game from the outset.

The game showed to be the best of the weekend as coach Nielsen commented that the girls passed well, maintained possession and moved the ball up and down the field with ease.

The Grizzlies remained successful for their field strategy until a close call awoke the Thunderbirds to their need for success. The game remained tied at 0-0 despite Lassen’s best scoring effort.

The Thunderbirds gathered their feathers after the close call and raced down the field for a 50-yard fast break. Las Plumas left Lassen in shock from their rush of possession and while the Grizzly keeper came out from the cage, the Thunderbird striker was able to dodge the keeper’s attempts to score the first Las Plumas point.

Coach Nielsen said, “Lassen continued to pile on the pressure, and shots came from all sides, with both Martin sisters, Buehler, and Nan Huskey getting quality shots on the goal.  Unfortunately for Lassen, the crossbar stopped one, another went just wide of the open net, and the keeper was able to push away a couple more. Lassen pressed hard throughout the game, never giving up their momentum, but just couldn’t finish off the shot, and lost their last game by a score of 1-0.”

Senior player and team captain Morgan Martin was named Player of the game against the Las Plumas Thunderbirds.

The Lassen thirst for a win clearly contributed to their game play strategies, but the tournament ended up as more of an example on how to succeed rather than an example of guaranteed success.

Both coaches, Rebecca Compton and Nielsen, looked at the tournament performance in a positive light. The coaches stated that the games allowed them to learn a great deal about their players’ strengths and weaknesses.

Throughout the tournament, each team member played in each game. Nearly all girls, including the keepers, played in at least two different positions during each game.

Coach Nielsen said, “Even though (Lassen was) missing a couple of key players, the team held strong, allowing only five goals in four games, and showed good ball control in two of the four games. Looking forward, Lassen will be playing three more tough teams in Redding on the weekend of Dec. 9-10, and will be looking for their first goals of the season.  Once Lassen hits its stride, the girls will be a tough team to beat with a solid defense and dangerous offensive players.”

After graduating 15 seniors in the spring of 2016, the Grizzlies spent the Dec. 2 weekend trying different combinations to fill starting positions. With a total of seven upperclassmen, the Grizzlies have some challenges ahead of them.

However, the team is eager to learn all that it needs prior to the official start of the season come January of 2017.