By Brad Fauber
WINCHESTER -- Grace Snyder's role on Shenandoah Valley Christian Academy's girls soccer team can sometimes go unnoticed.
As a defender, Snyder typically handles the dirty work, spending much of her time thwarting opponents' scoring attempts rather than putting pressure on the opposing goal. But as she showed on Tuesday against James Wood, Snyder can put the ball into the net if given the chance.
That opportunity presented itself twice to Snyder against the Colonels, and the sophomore delivered a pair of second-half goals to help the Patriots rally for a 3-1 win.
"Grace really gets overlooked just because of her position, but she's a phenomenal player," Patriots coach Dustin Wheelock said. "I could put her anywhere on the field and she would do a great job. As a defender she's fast, she's strong and just [puts] very good touch on the ball. She's kept us in a lot of games or, like today, has won some games for us."
The match, which was originally scheduled to be played at SVCA but was moved to James Wood due to rain, seemed like it was on the verge of going just as the previous meeting between the two schools had gone back on March 27, which saw the Colonels (3-2-1) claim a 3-0 victory. For most of Tuesday's match, SVCA (8-4-2) mounted little offensive push and had trouble capitalizing on its open looks at the goal.
But with the Patriots trailing 1-0 midway through the second half, Snyder finally gave SVCA some life. Snyder tapped the ball to teammate Megan Norton off a corner kick, and Norton immediately returned the favor with a pass back to Snyder as she stepped inbounds. Snyder then dribbled her way into the middle of the penalty box virtually uncontested before sneaking a shot on the rain-soaked turf past James Wood keeper Charlie Woods-Hulse to tie the game in the 58th minute.
"We've done that play multiple times this year and it hasn't been working for us. ... We've been struggling with that. I was happy that it worked because we've been doing that play for a couple years now," Snyder said.
"Usually I don't get that opportunity. I was surprised to get that look because I know James Wood has really, really strong defenders."
Snyder broke the tie 10 minutes later with a miraculous 60-yard shot. SVCA was awarded a free kick just a few steps inside the midfield line, and Snyder sent a soaring kick towards the goal. The ball landed in the middle of the penalty box, took a high bounce right over the head of Woods-Hulse and rolled into the net to give the Patriots a 2-1 lead in the 69th minute.
"Basically my job on all those balls is just to get it in the box, so that's what I was trying to do. But there's been some funny bounces this year -- this is the second goal I've gotten where it's kind of bounced funny over a goalie," Snyder said. "I thought, 'Darn it, I kicked it too far,' because I was supposed to be playing it to the far post. Whatever works."
Patriots junior forward Hannah McGann added an insurance goal less than three minutes later, as the ball found its way through a crowd and right to her foot off a corner kick from teammate Abi Beaty. McGann poked the ball softly into the left side of the net.
"The ball kind of came in and hit off a girl's foot and I was just able to tap it in right past the goalie, so that was good. I just kind of tapped it in," McGann said.
James Wood controlled most of the action in the first half of the match, although SVCA did have a few solid looks at the net that it failed to convert. The Colonels outshot SVCA 10-3 in the first 40 minutes, and a goal by James Wood sophomore Emily Denton off a cross pass by Neary Casebolt in the 31st minute gave the Colonels a 1-0 lead.
James Wood still held a 10-6 shot advantage in the second half and forced SVCA keeper Kayla Phaneuf to make seven total saves in the match, but the Patriots were able to capitalize on their added opportunities over the final 40 minutes.
"We just wanted to tweak a couple of things. We felt like if our mids could get it down to their feet a little bit more, we could start picking apart their defense because we've got some really good skill there in the middle," Wheelock said. "We weren't winning enough of those 50-50 chances [in the first half]. We just talked about reading off of each other and getting a better idea of, if we can create a few more of those 50-50 chances that we win, then it's going to give us that many more opportunities."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD