By Brad Fauber
STEPHENS CITY -- Shenandoah Valley Christian Academy has been a tough opponent to score against -- let alone beat -- during the early part of the girls soccer season.
The Patriots entered Monday's match with visiting Fresta Valley having allowed just one goal this season, and SVCA kept that impressive mark intact with an 8-0 shutout win over the Pioneers.
SVCA junior Maddie Deason recorded her first hat trick of the season to power the offensive attack for the Patriots, who have now held the opposing team scoreless in six of their first seven matches.
"The girls are really buying into the system. Our four back defenders are great, but we're not just relying on four girls to play defense," Patriots coach Dustin Wheelock said. "We're pressuring the ball quickly, we're playing really hard team defense. When we don't have the ball, I guess our motto in a sense is, 'We have to get the ball back quickly.' We try to get it back within five seconds. Then once we get it, get the ball moving around, knock it around and try to tie some things together."
SVCA's (6-0) ability to control the ball severely limited Fresta Valley's chances to create scoring opportunities. The Pioneers (5-1) managed just three shot attempts in the entire match, while SVCA fired 23 shots.
Fresta Valley coach Bethany Brown said the Pioneers have been limited in their ability to practice and train this season, but she credited SVCA's preparedness as one of the main reasons the Pioneers were unable to create any offense.
"I think they learn other teams well," Brown said. "They're good defenders, they're smart and that's what it takes. It takes thinking about where balls are going to go, what passes are going to be made, and I think they do a really good job with that."
SVCA's offensive push began quickly, as the Patriots missed on a pair of shots in the first five minutes before sophomore Hannah McGann snuck one into the net off a pass from teammate Jessica Crowley in the ninth minute to give SVCA a 1-0 lead.
Fresta Valley threatened to even the score midway through the first half when Pioneers freshman Sierra Lam found teammate Jen Knoebel with a pass inside the penalty box. Knoebel fired the shot from about 10 yards out, but Patriots keeper Kayla Phaneuf lunged to her left and was just able to get a hand on the ball and deflect the shot away.
"That was huge. If that goal goes in, the whole game could change," Wheelock said. "[Phaneuf] has had a tough job this year, because for the most part we've given up two or three shots a game, but she's got to make that save when it comes time. And that is a lot of times harder than continually making saves."
The Patriots offense then fell into a groove, as they scored three times over the final 15 minutes of the first half to take a 4-0 lead into halftime.
SVCA junior Megan Norton scored from the middle of the penalty box off a pass from Deason in the 25th minute, and senior Jessica Crowley scored the first of her two goals when she chipped in a shot from the inside the top right corner of the box.
Freshman Grace Snyder was credited with the Patriots' final goal of the first half when her shot was deflected by a Fresta Valley defender into the net in the 36th minute.
SVCA displayed its versatility in the first half, as four different players scored for the Patriots.
"We have a lot of foot skills on our team this year," said Crowley, who finished with two goals and two assists. "We have a lot of new girls this year that can control in the middle, and I think that has really just helped to control the tempo of the game for us because we can kind of control in the middle."
Deason then took over the game in the second half, as she scored the Patriots' next three goals to essentially put the game out of reach.
Deason's first goal came as teammate Kayla Freemire chipped a pass ahead of the Pioneers' defense, and Deason was able to corral it for a one-on-one opportunity with Fresta Valley's keeper, and the junior's shot slipped into the net to stretch the score to 5-0 in the 50th minute.
Deason struck again about 40 seconds later with her second goal, and she followed that with another in the 60th minute to give the Patriots a 7-0 lead. Deason was able to dribble through a pair of defenders on the play before unloading a shot from inside the penalty box.
"I saw a chance and I wasn't really sure what I was going for -- maybe a cross -- but then it just kind of opened up and I went for it," Deason said.
Crowley capped the scoring in the match when she scored off a pass from Norton with six minutes to play.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org