By Jeff Nations
FRONT ROYAL -- Randolph-Macon Academy's girls soccer team faced a potentially confusing situation on Tuesday against Tandem Friends.
Early on, the Yellow Jackets started receiving instructions -- from the bench, from the crowd and from each other -- to mark the Badgers' No. 20. One problem -- Tandem Friends often featured two players wearing that number on the field at the same time.
That might have been a problem, but R-MA learned right away which No. 20 was the dangerous one. Tandem Friends senior forward Payton Oliver-Smith, who forgot her game jersey and therefore had to borrow one, struck early and often for a hat trick against the Yellow Jackets in a 6-1 non-conference win.
Oliver-Smith tallied two goals in the first half to help the Badgers grab a 4-1 lead at the halftime break.
"Obviously she's a force to be reckoned with, and they took a little time to get used to that," Tandem Friends coach Brian Williams said. "But they did a good job of shutting her down in the second half."
Tandem Friends (1-1-1) needed just three minutes to get on the scoreboard, as Emily Hivick finished off a cross from teammate Kate Dean-McKinny in the penalty box. Lurking in front of the left goal post, Hivick gathered in the pass and chipped a rising shot past Yellow Jackets goalkeeper Sandi James that hit the crossbar and bounced in.
R-MA (0-2) answered just five minutes later on a dazzling play by junior forward Natalie Pendie, who darted through the Badgers' penalty area to intercept a pass. Pendie slipped past the keeper and knocked in the game-tying goal.
"She has so much tenacity," Yellow Jackets coach Brandy Hudson said of Pendie. "She's very quick, has so much heart, so much passion. It helps having her up top. We missed not having her in our last game."
Oliver-Smith only let that tie stand for three minutes, as she finished off Dean-McKinny's corner kick with a goal into the upper left corner of the net.
Two minutes later, Oliver-Smith struck again when she received a throw-in from the left side. The senior slipped her defender for a diagonal run and sent a shot past James into the back of the net.
The Badgers got one more first-half goal in the 19th minute when Kacy Muthiora gathered in the rebound off Aaliyah Williams' thwarted run in the penalty box. Muthiora had an empty net in front, and she finished with a goal.
"These were our first goals of the year," Brian Williams said. "We've faced some pretty tough teams to start the season, and we've been working a lot on it this past week during spring break."
R-MA managed sporadic opportunities in the second half, but couldn't break through.
Tandem's Jennings Rice got her first goal of the season in the 59th minute off another deflection, winning a loose ball after R-MA's James had rejected Muthiora's shot on a run in the box.
Then in the 65th minute, Oliver-Smith got her hat trick by blasting a shot from the top of the penalty area.
"I think the first half was a little unorganized," Williams said. "I think in the second half what we tried to accomplish was the possession, and I think they did much better in the second half. Part of what I wanted to accomplish was slow down the ball and try to build up the opportunities for an attack."
Tandem Friends outshot the Yellow Jackets, 18-8. James finished with seven saves for R-MA.
"This year we truly have girls who have never played," Hudson said. "We're literally trying to coach them in the game, trying to teach them techniques and practice as we're playing a game. So it's tough, but there were some positives."
Pendie thinks her team will improve as the season goes on. It will just take some time.
"Whether we win or we lose, at the end of the season the way we grow together as a team -- and I consider these girls as my family -- that's what I care about the most," Pendie said. "Yes, we'd like to win every game. No, we're not going to win every game. But we're going to put all of our heart and soul into every game and we're going to try our best, and we're going to be a family."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>