The unbeaten Chapel Hill and Cardinal Gibbons girls’ soccer teams might have played a scoreless battle all night if not for a light drizzle that fell Monday over the Tigers’ field throughout warm-ups and the first half.
Chapel Hill forced most of the offensive momentum in the Big Eight 3A match, but that’s not what decided a 1-0 win for the Tigers (10-0, 7-0) over reigning state champion Cardinal Gibbons (10-1-2, 5-1).
With nearly 10 minutes of the second half elapsed, junior Lianna Malawski found herself alone with a Cardinal Gibbons defender at midfield when she saw teammate Sofie Nielsen take possession.
“I heard Lianna call for the ball and just passed to the middle of the field,” said Nielsen, a junior who sent a high pass.
Malawski felt she had a step on the defender as she turned for the pass, but she soon had more than a step. She had the whole field for a breakaway on the goalie when the Cardinal Gibbons defender slipped on the turf.
“I saw her go down,” Malawski said. “I knew I was the only up and it was me and the goalie.”
It’s as close to a breakaway dunk situation in basketball as is possible in a sport with a goalie, but even in basketball an early celebration of the sudden situation can end in a missed opportunity.
“When I’m one-on-one, I don’t hear the crowd,” Malawski said. “You have to have a calm mind or the ball will fly over the goal. I was so happy when it went in. My teammates are so supportive I knew I had to get it in.”
Cardinal Gibbons and Chapel Hill have come to expect such battles in their short history together in the Big Eight 3A.
“It was two tough teams that went at it,” Crusaders coach Michele Miller said. “That’s what gets us excited about playing games over here. (The slip) happens. We were just unlucky.”
Cardinal Gibbons had some of its best opportunities to score after falling behind, but Chapel Hill goalies Madeline Mesaros and Aylee Whitesides had help all night. Senior Laura Sullivan kicked away two balls in front of the net during the final minutes and senior Megan Dell a third earlier in the match.
“This year our defense is so strong,” Sullivan said. “Most of us are seniors who have been playing together since we were freshmen. We have each other’s backs. When it gets past our goalie, we know we’ve got someone behind them.”