Natick ends girls' soccer's undefeated start to season

The Newtonite

by Kristian Lundberg
Girls’ soccer, 7-1-2, lost its first game of the season 3-2 to Natick Tuesday in a game that mirrored the ebb and flow of the weather.

The rain came just before kickoff, surprising everyone at Dickinson Stadium. Both the players and the spectators immediately took shelter from the sudden downpour, as a beautiful day for playing soccer turned into a better environment for playing water polo.

Meanwhile, on the soccer pitch, the Tigers’ once-sunny chances of staying undefeated were worsening with the weather. Within five minutes, the team conceded an early goal to a Natick side that, coincidentally, was the last team to beat the Tigers in the regular season, in October of last year. The Red and Blue were winning the physical battles, and the Tigers were struggling to maintain possession on the slippery turf.

However, just when it seemed that the Tigers were staring at a depressing result, one of the team’s youngest players and one of its oldest stepped up.

Freshman Anna Nesgos, who had flourished over the past few games as a prolific striker, received a through ball with 12 minutes left in the half and found herself in alone with the goalie. With impeccable poise, Nesgos calmly moved the ball to her left foot and tucked it into the lower right corner, past the onrushing keeper, to knot the game at 1-1.

The score held until 10 minutes into the second half, when senior Holly Szafran, one of the team’s top goal scorers this season, controlled a pass along the right wing, and, in one motion, blasted a shot from 25 yards out. Her angle at the net was so acute, it was practically nonexistent. The keeper saw the ball fly over her head and assumed that the ball would float over the crossbar. But the ball curved down and to the left before burying itself into the upper left corner.

For a split second, the crowd, reduced by the rain to a few intrepid soccer fans, was silenced by such a spectacular goal. Then, the cheering resumed. The Tigers had taken a 2-1 lead, and, for a brief moment, the sky seemed to brighten and the rain started to slow.

“We’re a confident team, and even when we’re a goal down, we still play competitively,” coach James Hamblin said.

However, that moment lasted for only 15 minutes. The torrential rain returned, and so did Natick’s offense. Soon after the goal, Natick began to press, and the Tigers could not keep the Red and Blue at bay. The Tigers’ defense managed to make a couple nervy clearances, but Natick found a breakthrough with 15 minutes left. A low cross skidded on the wet surface past the unorganized defense, and the Red and Blue finished from six yards out to equalize at 2-2.

“We weren’t able to see the game out in the way we would’ve liked,” Hamblin said.

“We relaxed when we were up 2-1, but we should’ve taken the ball more to the corners and have gotten all of our players behind the ball. We weren’t compact enough on defense.”

After tying the game, Natick still was not done. The Red and Blue continued to press, pinning the Tigers into their defensive half. After a few near-misses, Natick scored a knockout blow when it drew a penalty with five minutes left from a hand ball inside the box. In the pouring rain, Natick senior Mai Mitsuyama, the 13th-best girls’ soccer prospect in the Northeast, according to Top Drawer Rankings, buried the spot kick in the low right corner, putting her team up for good 3-2.

The Tigers had one last chance to avoid their first loss, but junior Jordyn Matthews’ audacious free kick from 35 yards out sailed inches over the bar.

Hamblin said, “If we had scored a third goal and made it 3-1, we could probably have closed out the game.”

“We’ve tasted success, but there’s still a few things we need to work on. Still, our season has been very successful so far.”

The Tigers travel to Braintree today and will face Dedham on the road Tuesday.