FRONT ROYAL — Skyline couldn’t have asked for a much better start to its season.
The Hawks dominated play in a 3-0 non-district boys soccer victory over Strasburg on Thursday night. It was the season opener for Skyline.
“There’s obviously some things we can work on,” Skyline junior Joe Hillaert said. “But since our last season wasn’t the best, I see huge improvements. And I’m very confident that we’ll have a very competitive season this year.”
The Hawks took a 1-0 lead just seven minutes into the game on a goal by sophomore Alex O’Neill-Payne. The forward said he was motivated after missing a shot three minutes into the contest.
“I missed the first one with the right foot, so I had to kind of make up for it,” O’Neill-Payne said. “I just got the ball right in front of the goal and shot it with my left foot. And it felt good as I shot it.”
It was O’Neill-Payne’s first varsity game of his career, and he said it felt good to score a goal so quickly.
“It got my nerves down a lot,” he said. “So I could kind of cool down and play my game.”
Skyline coach Steve Carey said he was happy to see O’Neill-Payne play so well.
“I’m real happy for him,” Carey said. “We’re looking for good things from him. And if he keeps up this pace, this is exactly what we’re looking for. He’s the type of player that’s going to put the time in in practice, so it translates right onto the field.”
The Hawks dominated possession throughout the game and controlled the action. Hillaert, a defender, extended the lead to 2-0 on a goal off of a corner kick by Julian Sanchez with about 12 minutes left in the first half.
“I normally only go up when there’s set play like that,” Hillaert said. “And on the play they were sending in, I told them exactly where I was going to be – the back of the 6. I went there and (Sanchez) sent it perfectly. I just circled in and sent it into the back of the net.”
The Hawks (1-0) extended the lead to 3-0 in the final two minutes of the half. Skyline senior Micah Winningham put the ball past Strasburg goalkeeper Daniel Eyring on a penalty kick.
Strasburg coach Joel Ross said that he switched formations in the second half, which helped a little bit.
“We wanted to get more control in the middle (of the field),” Ross said. “And I wouldn’t say we out-played them in the second half. We were not the stronger team even in the second half, but we won the second half. We created two or three good goal-scoring opportunities, and they did too. Our keeper (Eyring) kept us in the game. He had several really good saves in the second half.”
Strasburg scored its only goal in the final two minutes of the contest on a penalty kick. Strasburg senior Matthew Thompson shot the ball past Skyline backup goalkeeper Dylan Berry.
The Rams (0-2) only had 13 players due to injuries. Strasburg has 14 players on this year’s roster but had three players out due to injury. Ross said he brought up two players from the junior varsity squad for the game and used them as substitutions.
Even though the Rams have a young squad with six sophomores, Ross said he really likes the team he has.
“It’s one of the younger teams I’ve coached, so it’s one of the less experienced teams overall,” Ross said. “But it’s also one of the most coachable teams I’ve ever coached. They respond well. They listen well. They’re respectful. I don’t have any attitude problems. I don’t have anybody on the team who think they know too much. I’ve had kids like that before. I really like this squad as young as they are.”
Carey said it’s really helped his team that many of them played together in an indoor league in the offseason. He said playing together in the offseason should help them during the high school season.
Carey said it was good for his team to get a win in the first game of the year.
“I think it gets a lot of butterflies for the boys — for us as coaches as well — get that out of our system,” Carey said. “Now we’ve seen what they can do; we know what stuff we carry on in practice and stuff that we can always work on.”