The Reservoir girls soccer team has 11 seniors. And before Thursday night, none of them had ever beaten Atholton.
They’ve come close, like in last year’s showdown in the 3A East, Section I final. The match remained scoreless for about 75 minutes before Catalina Lennon laced a shot that somehow fit between Reservoir goalkeeper Lizzie Dudzinski and the top crossbar. Just like that, the Gators went home while the Raiders went on to win their first region title since 2004.
The loss stayed with the Reservoir upperclassmen, so much so that at the end of practice Wednesday, the six captains explained their inability to knock off Atholton and their craving to change that a day later. It also marked their first league game of the season, meaning an early chance to show off their potential to the rest of the county. Beating Atholton would satisfy both requirements.
It was a tale of two halves Thursday night, with Reservoir dominating before intermission and Atholton consistently possessing the ball after the break. However, the Gators had the luxury of scoring two early goals that eventually held up in their 2-1 statement win.
“Atholton is clearly our rival. They’ve always been our rival,” senior midfielder Blair Vant Hoff said. “This was a big game for us. It’s our senior year, we have 11 seniors on the team, and we really wanted to come out and win this game.”
Vant Hoff did more than enough to help secure the win, as she assisted on the first goal to freshman Karis Turner before scoring the second one with a top-shelf laser from distance. Also on the offensive was sophomore Kat Parris and seniors Kate Hyde, Clara Janush, Kennedy Hawkins and Maya Budzinski, who strung together passes to create several quality first-half scoring chances.
The second half, meanwhile, belonged to the Gators’ backline. Whenever Atholton possessed the ball in the attacking third, it wasn’t long before junior Trinity Yang and senior Emily Dorn cleared the ball away. In net, Dudzinski (six saves) made timely stops to keep Reservoir (1-0-0 county, 4-0-1 overall) ahead.
“This was really important to [the captains] that they wanted to get this win and start the season off on the right foot,” said fifth-year Gators coach Phil Ranker, who also had not beaten Atholton before Thursday night. “And the captains did a really nice job preparing them and letting the message sink in that it’s not preseason anymore, it’s not out-of-county play anymore. It’s for real, and everything counts from now on.”
Turner, making her county debut, heard that message loud and clear and quickly informed the rest of the league that her scoring barrage wasn’t limited to nonconference competition.
Less than five minutes into the game, Vant Hoff smoked a long free kick into the crowded box that freshman goalkeeper Dahlia Bedward came off her line to charge. It turned out to be a costly mistake.
Before Bedward (12 saves) could knock away the ball, Turner flicked a header into the net for her seventh goal in five matches to start the season.
Bedward’s aggressiveness proved detrimental once again in the 17th minute. Holding possession about 20 yards from goal, Vant Hoff understood Bedward’s tendencies and decided on a whim to go for goal.
“Why not take the chance?” Vant Hoff said after placing her strike in the top-left corner. “If you don’t shoot, you don’t score, so I did it, and I got a lucky shot.”
For Atholton (0-1, 0-1), coach Stephanie Stoutenborough said that in the first half, it was “obvious” the team had only played one scrimmage prior Thursday night. Their starting lineup of four freshmen and several returning upperclassmen were not playing their style, which resulted in the Raiders giving up what Stoutenborough called “two unmarked goals.”
Their performance normalized in the second half, bringing more scoring chances and a goal from Lilly Decellas along with it. Freshman Ava Morales produced the initial attempt that Dudzinski blocked, but the rebound bounced right to Decellas to punch home with about 29 minutes to play. It marked the Raiders’ fourth shot on goal of the period, doubling their total from the first half.
“I think the second half, we dominated,” Stoutenborough said. “We put a lot of pressure on them, we connected passes, we got some scoring opportunities. I’m upset with the loss, but we’ll learn and build and be ready for next game.”
Reservoir’s defense bent, yes, but it did not break. In fact, it held off just long enough to send a countywide message.
“I’m really proud of my team,” Vant Hoff said. “This is a hard team to start with, but the county has underestimated us, so we had a lot of motivation coming out in this game, and we put it away.”
Reservoir (1-0-0 county, 4-0-1 overall) — 2, Atholton (0-1-0, 0-1-0) — 1
Goals: Re — Blair Vant Hoff, Karis Turner; A — Lilly Decellas.
Assists: Re — Vant Hoff.
Saves: Re — Lizzie Dudzinski 6; A — Dahlia Bedward 12
Halftime: 2-0, Re