Tigers score early to top Warriors

Rarely is a game decided in the first minute.

However, Tuesday at Walker Field it took less than a minute for the Grand Junction High School girls soccer team to establish control. On the first counter-attack of the game, the ball squirted through Central’s five-back defense, and freshman striker Leah Swander ran unopposed for 40 yards. With a small tap, she maneuvered around Central’s goalkeeper Marisa Brown and scored the first goal of the 3-0 win.

“Intensity won the game for us,” Grand Junction coach Joe Graham said. “When we finally turned on, we kept our intensity high. We able to hook up a lot of passes because of our intensity.”

It may have been senior night for the Tigers (10-4, 7-2 Southwestern League), but underclassmen shouldered the offensive load. To start the second half, Rabbit Hansen played farther forward than typical for a center back, but controlled the ball above the penalty box, took two touches and blasted the ball into the top third of the net. Jordan Drake capped the victory with an unassisted solo breakaway.

Grand Junction pushed the pace and used the width of the field to create chances. Part of the reason the Tigers limited Central to zero shots on goal was their ability to keep the ball in the offensive zone.

Central (1-12-2, 0-9-1 SWL) is graduating five seniors, but will bring back the majority of its offense and midfield. Coach Jacob Pingel thinks that the experience his defensive players gained will allow the Warriors to change to a more traditional formation. The Warriors’ 5-4-1 formation, wallowed them to stay in games defensively, but limited offensive opportunities. The Warriors only scored two goals during their league campaign.

“I think we’re going to be a year stronger and smarter on defense, and we won’t have to pack it in as much,” Pingel said. ““We had to learn and grow this year, and I had to instill a defense-first mindset.”

Grand Junction’s final game against Montrose will likely decide the SWL champion. The Tigers hold the tiebreaker with second-place Durango after winning 3-0 at home and losing 1-0 in Durango.

“I just tell them that (the game against Montrose) is in their hands,” Graham said. “They’ve started to jell and believe in each other. They need to not let off and be confident.”


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