Coming off a 10-7-1 season and a trip to the state playoffs and with a solid core of upperclassmen, Clayton’s girls soccer team is in position to bloom this spring.
With the winter weather that wiped out the preseason finally behind them, the Comets flashed their colors in their season opener on Monday, downing host Smithfield-Selma 4-1 behind a one goal, one assist night from both Lauren Daniels, Janelle Reid and Everett Biggs in non-conference play.
Sophomore Sophia Woznichak also tallied a goal for Clayton to join the juniors Daniels and Biggs, the two leading scorers from last year’s squad.
“We’ve got some good talent out there but like any group we have to get together and work as a team,” Clayton coach William Williams said. “I’m very excited about this year. If we can stay healthy and stay motivated I think we’ll have a good chance this year.”
Tied 1-1 late in the first half, the Comets struck twice in less than two minutes to take control. After Smithfield-Selma starting goalkeeper Caroline Carter was injured and briefly removed from the game, Reid took a pass in the middle of the field and with room to operate, drilled a shot past backup goalie Sierra Kincaid in the 31st minute.
Carter then returned to the goal posts but in the 33rd minute was beaten on a shot off the foot of Woznichak to allow Clayton to take a 3-1 lead at the break.
“(Carter’s injury) kind of got us off a little bit. We came back at the half and tried to fix some of the things that caused those two goals. I think we did a good job of adjusting but those two goals definitely hurt back-to-back,” first-year Spartan head coach Stacy Holland said.
A backline anchored by four seniors and a flourishing midfield allowed Clayton to control the possession game and dictate the scoring opportunities.
“We’ve been hurting (at midfield) a little bit the last couple years but now we’ve got a sophomore (Kendall Gillespy) who’s very good and Emery Biggs who’s a freshman and she’s going to be outstanding,” Williams said. “I like the passing. It’s funny because we scored three goals in the first half but our passing was much better in the second half. We just couldn’t knock them in. I told them if we keep passing the way were in front of the box, they’ll go in.”
The shaken up Carter stood tall in the second half, allowing just a 56th minute goal from Daniels despite consistent pressure from the Comet attack.
“They did a good job in the midfield. They did a good job of stepping to the ball and beating us to some passes and making some passes off the ball,” Holland said. “They got a lot of shots on goal. Caroline did an excellent job in goal.”
Freshman Natalie Sabistan scored the Spartans’ lone goal on an assist from Kara Harrison. Freshman Holland Mills added an assist for Clayton.
“We learned a lot tonight as far as some of our strengths and weaknesses,” Holland said. “Overall I think we did a good job. We have a lot of young players playing on the field right now so I think they’re getting some good experience and by the time conference (play) comes around I think we’ll have some of those kinks worked out.”