Poland battles Howland to a draw in big AAC Red Tier matchup
By DOUG CHAPIN
While both sides may consider the result “one that got away,” the fans in attendance were treated to an exciting girls soccer contest Wednesday night as Poland High and Howland battled to a 3-3 draw in an All-American Conference Red Division game.
Both teams enjoyed periods of dominant play and both showed plenty of resiliency and heart. The Bulldogs (6-1-1, 2-0-1 AAC Red) jumped out to a 2-0 lead with goals just 46 seconds apart late in the first half.
Howland (7-2-1, 1-1-1 AAC Red) got a goal in the final minute of the first half then put two more balls in the net to take a 3-2 lead with just over eight minutes left.
Poland scored the game-tying marker about three minutes later.
“The girls never quit, they came back and tied the game,” said Poland coach Bob Cavalier said, whose team hasn’t beaten Howland since 2002. “It would have been a big win for us tonight. We know we can go with them and I think tonight’s game shows that once tournament time comes it’s going to be a tough bracket.”
Cavalier felt his team moved the ball better in the first half than it had all year but the Bulldogs were back on their heels a little bit in the second half.
“I give credit to Howland, they played a good second half,” he said. “But our girls have a lot of heart and when Howland went up 3-2, we could have packed it in but we didn’t.“
Poland’s losing streak to the Tigers includes losses in the Division I district final in 2008 and 2006.
“It’s a Poland-Howland game, that’s how they work, forever,” Howland coach Pat Hovance said. “It usually comes down to one or two goals or we end up with a draw. I’m just so proud of our girls for coming back in the second half.
“Poland took it to us in the first half, I give them everything. We played terrible soccer, a lot of kickball. We didn’t handle their speed, we didn’t handle their pressure very well. We let our senior leaders take over the locker room at halftime and whatever they said worked.”
Poland’s Kelsey Malenic opened the scoring with a goal at the 11:43 mark of the first half off a cross from sophomore Carolyn Balzano. Malenic’s goal was her fourth of the season.
Senior forward Tatum Marucci followed at the 10:57 mark with a brilliant goal off an assist from Malenic. From about 20 yards out on the left side, Marucci curled a shot away from keeper Emily Price and into the side netting on the far post.
Marucci also scored the Bulldogs’ final goal, her 10th of the season. Most of the credit on that one, though, goes to junior Erin Gabriel who drilled a 50-yard free kick, hitting Marucci in stride behind the Howland defense. All Marucci had to do was guide the ball into the net, which she did with 5:01 showing on the clock.
Howland’s first goal, with 47 seconds left in the first half, came when junior forward Olivia Nicholas held off Poland keeper Abbie Frank in controlling a pass from Erika Nites near the edge of the penalty box. Once she gained control, Nicholas was able to loft a shot which bounced into the empty net.
Nicholas scored again, her fourth goal of the season, when she buried a shot from about 10 yards in front of the net after a fine cross from freshman Seyla Perez. That goal came with 13:27 left in the game.
Perez then head in a goal off a corner kick by Nites with 8:33 to play and Howland had its 3-2 lead.
“When we jumped out 2-0 we were in good position to win it, even with a half to go,” Cavalier said. “But we let down on defense the last minute of the first half and that changed the momentum.”