By Jerry Holsworth - firstname.lastname@example.org
STEPHENS CITY -- James Wood's girls soccer team got its third straight victory on Thursday, defeating Skyline 2-1 in the Northwestern District Tournament play-in game.
Despite the winning streak, things don't get any easier for the Colonels, who must face regular-season champ Sherando in the district semifinals Saturday at 1 p.m.
"I thought that Skyline really played well, and we played well enough to win," James Wood coach Jim Carden said. "We had tired legs tonight. We expended a lot of energy against Handley [on] Tuesday, and we had to face a very physical Skyline team after just one day's rest."
The Hawks, knowing that it was either win or see their season end, played with determination and emotion the whole game. They made things very difficult for the Colonels.
"I thought that we played really well," Skyline forward Katie Callihan said. "We really wanted to win this game and get a shot at Sherando. We did our best. We just didn't score enough goals."
This game was very much like their previous two, with neither side able to mount an insurmountable lead and both sides playing hard at midfield and on the back line.
"We played well enough to win, and that's important," Carden said. "But we're going to have to play a lot better if we're going to compete with Sherando [on] Saturday."
The first 10 minutes of play were very physical with neither team able to get the edge. But the Colonels, behind the play of center midfielder Sarah Callaham, slowly took control of the game. Although James Wood only outshot the Hawks 3-1 over the first 10 minutes, they outshot them 7-1 for the rest of the first half.
With 13:50 left in the half, James Wood's offensive prowess finally paid off. Katy Spencer found Callaham open in the penalty area and hit her with a perfect pass. Callaham did the rest, blasting the ball past Skyline goalkeeper Kayla Williams from five yards out to put the Colonels up 1-0.
Although the Hawks pressed hard in the second half to try to get the equalizer, James Wood used a corner kick with 17:55 left in the game to get their second goal. Callaham launched the corner over the head of Williams and Cat Woznak was there to head it into the goal.
"Sarah just made a perfect corner kick and I wasn't marked," Woznak said. "I just headed it into the net. Skyline was very fast and very physical the whole game. We had to fight for everything we got. This was a very hard game."
The difference was the play of Callaham, the Colonels' not-so-secret weapon at midfielder. The sophomore's control of midfield and her flawless passing to her forwards gave James Wood a decided advantage all night. Her play has resulted in three assists and a goal for Callaham over the last two games.
"I just try to get the ball to the forwards, and not worry too much about scoring myself," Callaham said. "That's really my job. It's always a team effort to score a goal."
Despite the 2-0 lead, the Hawks refused to throw in the towel. With eight minutes to play, Brittany Brogan struck a hard shot from 20 yards out that was deflected by Colonel goalkeeper Marissa Messer. Callihan, however, was there to volley in the ricochet to narrow Wood's lead to 2-1.
With the Hawks pressing hard, the Colonels responded by moving Woznak back to fullback.
"They got a goal, and I was moved back to defense," Woznak said. "At that point in the game it was important to see to it that they didn't score again, so we stacked the defense."
The strategy worked, and the Hawks didn't threaten James Wood's goal again.
"I thought that we played really well," Skyline coach John Moore said. "This game was just like the other two we played against them this year. It was very close. But I have no complaints. I couldn't have asked any more from the girls. They played their hearts out."
With the Hawks season over, and the Colonels now on a collision course with the district's top team James Wood has no illusions about the magnitude of Saturday's game.
"Sherando is best team in the district," Callaham said. "We're going to have to put together 80 minutes of the best soccer we've played all season to be competitive with them. There can be no lapses. We have to come into the game understanding that we have to be totally focused to have a chance. But I'm very confident of our ability to do that."