By Brad Fauber - firstname.lastname@example.org
STEPHENS CITY -- Shenandoah Valley Christian Academy junior Austin Stover recorded his second hat trick of the season as the Patriots topped visiting Wakefield Country Day School, 4-2, on Monday.
The Patriots (7-1, 1-0 VACA) ended last season with a record of 9-7-3, but have already notched their seventh win in 2012. Monday's victory extends SVCA's winning streak to six games.
"We're meshing a lot better. These guys have put in a lot of work out of season, and it's really showing," said Patriots coach Dustin Wheelock. "And they've been working hard in practice, and that's showing. Overall, this team has been a joy to coach."
Stover and the Patriots started their attack early in the first half against the Owls (1-2). Stover attempted three shots for SVCA in the first 12 minutes of the match, the third of which narrowly missed as it glanced off the crossbar in the 12th minute.
In the 14th minute, Patriots junior Nathanael Illsley got tangled up with a Wakefield defender as Illsley attempted a shot in the penalty box, and SVCA was awarded a penalty kick.
Wheelock chose Stover to attempt the shot, and Stover responded by sending the ball into the back of the net to give SVCA a 1-0 lead in the 15th minute.
"The last time I took a PK, I wasn't sure I was going to make it and I was pretty nervous. Then [Wheelock] told me I was going to be the main PK shooter this year, so I practiced them a little more, and lately I've become a lot better at them," Stover said. "The PK really helped us, I think. It just got our spirits up more for the rest of the game."
Stover struck again late in the 33rd minute when he dribbled by a Wakefield Country defender and fooled Owls keeper Alex Foster into thinking that he was going to attempt the shot into the right side of the goal. Instead, Stover's shot went to the left, beating Foster to give SVCA a 2-0 lead.
The Patriots controlled the ball for most of the first half, out-shooting Wakefield Country 7-3, but the Owls did manage a goal in the final minute of the half when freshman Shane O'Heir beat SVCA keeper Madison Brewer from 10 yards out.
Stover made sure any momentum that Wakefield took into halftime as a result of O'Heir's goal was quickly erased when he cashed in on his third goal just two minutes into the second half.
On the play, Patriots junior Bennett Heidelberger found Stover on a pass to the middle of the field, and Stover dribbled the ball through the legs of Owls defender Alejandro Rodriguez to set up a one-on-one shot against Foster from about 10 yards out. Stover converted to give SVCA a 3-1 lead.
"That really helped us, because I felt like they were really starting to turn it up and then Austin broke through and put the ball in for us," Wheelock said. "[Stover] has really stepped up this year and has really, overall, just been a good leader."
The Patriots scored again just over five minutes later when junior Mitchel Ryan converted on a header right in front of the goal off a corner kick by Peter Harrison.
SVCA did little on offense after that, but it survived a determined push by the Owls over the final 20 minutes of the match.
The Owls scored their second goal of the evening when Conor O'Heir found Marc Cugnon with a cross pass into the box that ended with Cugnon beating Brewer to cut the lead to 4-2 with 13 minutes to play.
Wakefield Country out-shot SVCA 8-6 in the second half, but Brewer made five of his six saves in the final 40 minutes to hold off the Owls' attack.
Monday's victory was a nice payback for the Patriots, who fell to Wakefield Country 9-1 last year in Flint Hill.
"This year we're definitely a younger team with no seniors or anything, so to come back and beat this team feels really good," Stover said.