By Jeff Nations - email@example.com
STEPHENS CITY --Ellie Volinsky was a bundle of nerves in goal for Handley's girls soccer team Thursday night.
Not far removed from a junior-varsity call-up and pressed into duty because starting keeper Holly Ogilvie is out with an injury, Volinsky had to make her starting varsity debut against Northwestern District rival Sherando at Arrowhead Stadium.
Volinsky expected a test, big time.
It took nearly 60 minutes, but the Warriors finally got around to applying some serious pressure on the freshman keeper with a flurry of second-half attempts.
Volinsky handled them all to preserve a 1-0 victory for the Judges.
"She did a fantastic job," Handley coach John Lynch said. "She has great hands, great presence, talks a lot, just feels real natural and real comfortable in the goal. Obviously nerves, first time doing it, but she did phenomenal."
Handley (3-5, 2-1 Northwestern) notched the only goal nine minutes into the contest off a corner kick by Cassie Alamo. As part of a rush toward Alamo's shot toward the box, Handley junior midfielder Alison Snow sprang to the front and headed the ball past Warriors keeper Maribeth Stotler-Watkins.
It was the third goal of the season for Snow, and the first off a header.
"I just kind of saw it coming over the back side, and I just went up for it and took it with my head," Snow said. "We've been working on those a lot in practice lately, and really been just working on our finishing with whatever we've got. So that was pretty exciting. That's one of the things I've always wanted to do."
Stotler-Watkins, unlike Volinsky, was kept plenty busy in the first half as the Judges pressed the attack. The Warriors' junior keeper made four first-half saves as Handley outshot Sherando, 10-3.
It was enough to convince Warriors coach Rob Kilmer to adjust his lineup for the second half, rewarding players with "the most energy."
With 22:22 to play, that strategy nearly paid off when Katelyn Tuck slipped past Handley's superb defender, Kimberly Rosario, for an open look. Tuck sliced a wicked shot toward Volinsky, who dove and deflected the ball before teammate Anna Robinson swooped in to clear it away.
"I was really thankful because I didn't even know if I got a hand on it," Volinsky said. "Then the defense just cleared it right out."
Tuck wasn't through challenging Volinsky, though. Three minutes later, off Margarita Beyer's corner kick, Tuck tracked down the ball and sent a slashing shot toward the right post from the top of the box. Volinsky was ready again with another diving save to preserve the shutout.
After a relatively uneventful first half with three routine saves, Volinsky stopped six more in the second half.
"I was really nervous, but I managed to calm down about five minutes into the game -- didn't have to take a lot of shots," Volinsky said. "By the end of it, I was feeling pretty confident."
Rosario and the rest of Handley's defense helped ease those nerves.
"She's a strong presence in the back," Lynch said of Rosario. "She's got fast feet. She'll get to a ball, she'll win a ball -- strong leg, so she's gonna clear it out and start that counterattack for us.
"I think the girls have responded well to her presence -- Scarlett Hutchins on the one side, and Tala Curry on the other. I mean, they're just playing well off each other. And they feel more confident then to push up a little bit more, knowing Kim is back there."
Sherando (1-6-1, 1-3) was left searching for answers on the offensive end after another strong outing by the Warriors' defense and Stotler-Watkins (nine saves). Handley outshot the Warriors, 18-10.
"That's our story -- that's why we have five goals this year," Kilmer said. "No one has stepped up to be that hungry goal scorer. It's a process we're going through right now. Growing pains, I guess."