ANSONIA — In the opener, the Hawks could do everything but close.
The Woodland girls’ soccer team opened their season by traveling to take on Naugatuck Valley League foe Ansonia High School on Tuesday. The Hawks dominated the game but were held to a 2-2 tie after two halves and two overtime periods of constantly knocking on the Chargers’ doorstep.
Woodland outshot Ansonia by a remarkable 42-8 and held possession for the vast majority of the match. The greater part of the game was played in the Hawks attacking third and the offense posed a constant threat throughout.
“I liked the effort by our offense today,” said Coach Joe Fortier. “I though we played very well in the center of the field and the forwards worked hard and did a good job getting open and finding space. Our possession of play was very good.”
Woodland jumped out to the lead when Keri DeBiase netted a beauty of a goal from just inside the 18-yard box with 17 minutes remaining in the first half.
DeBiase carried the ball into the box where she executed a perfect give-and-go pass with teammate Steph Dumond and fired a shot that sailed just left of the diving Ansonia keeper into the back of the goal.
DeBiase, a sophomore, was a constant threat up front, creating chances and penetrating the Chargers’ backline time and time again.
“There may not be enough adjectives to explain Keri DeBiase,” Fortier said. “The heart that she plays with, the sizes that she plays with, even with a small body like that, she can dominate any position she’s at.”
The Hawks didn’t let up after taking the lead, continuing to put shots on the frame. Raven Palmerie, Marissa Mills and Riley Shaw all had scoring opportunities, but Chargers keeper Tori Czajkowski held the line and turned away shots from every angle.
The Hawks went into the half with a 1-0 lead. Coach Fortier warned his the girls that, although they were dominating, to be aware of mistakes, because Ansonia was a team that could capitalize quickly.
The Chargers did just that six minutes into the second half when Woodland defenders failed to clear the ball out of the box and gave Melissa Tirella an open shot, which she deposited over Hawks’ goalkeeper Alma Rizvani to even the match at 1-1.
“I was trying to warn the girls a mistake here or there can kill you, and it ended up killing us,” Fortier said. “I think the first five minutes of the second half we came out a little flat. Not getting the ball out of the box and coughing up that goal early took a little self esteem out of them and I think they panicked.”
While Woodland continued to control the ball after the goal, momentum shifted slightly and the Chargers found themselves with better scoring chances than they had in the first 40 minutes.
The Chargers capitalized on one of those chances with 15 minutes left in the game when Ansonia forward Shannon O’Brien beat the Hawks keeper to a ball just inside the 18-yard box. O’Brien touched the ball to the side of a sliding Rizvani and then passed the ball into the empty net for the go-ahead goal.
The Chargers, despite being out-possessed and out-shot almost the entire match, refused to go away and showed grit and tenacity that ended up paying off in the second half.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to Ansonia,” Fortier said. “One thing they will do is work hard. We dominated possession and dominated shots; a lot of teams would have caved on that and they didn’t. They put got their feet in front of the ball, their bodies in front of the ball and that kept them in it.”
With a heartbreaking loss just minutes away the Hawks regrouped and posted a final offensive attack. After several shots went wide or were blocked, and after one shot struck the woodwork, the Hawks finally hit paydirt with just less than ten minutes to go.
The equalizer came when Marissa Mills found herself one-on-one with Czajkowski and slotted the ball her right for the score.
Fortier attributed the comeback performance to the experience of his team, especially in the midfield.
“That second goal had a lot to do with the leadership we have in the middle of the field,” Fortier said. “Those girls in the middle talk a lot and they keep the team going; they wouldn’t have allowed them to give in after we fell behind.”
Chances came for both sides in the overtime periods but neither team was able to capitalize and record an elusive game-winning goal. After 100 minutes, the game ended in a 2-2- tie
Fortier came away proud of the performance by his squad and commended the players’ efforts throughout the match.
“Offensively we’ve got to be happy,” Fortier said. “Two mistakes like that can kill you. In that aspect I am a little disappointed, but I don’t think it was a letdown. Our girls were working hard it just didn’t fall for them today.”