Four separate Aggies scored as the Utah State soccer team defeated in-state foe Southern Utah by a score of 4-0. The exhibition match was a chance for new players, as well as some familiar faces, to grease their off-season gears.
Coach Heather Cairns said “developing team cohesion” was one of their main goals heading into the exhibition.
“SUU presented an interesting tactical problem in terms of how they defended us, for us to solve,” Cairns said, adding the team was able to “break down” the Thunderbirds plan while focusing on how those challenged would better the team during the season.
The Aggies’ offense was stagnant early in the first half as the team were constantly being pushed back by SUU’s pressure. It wasn’t until a counter midway through the first half that the Aggies were able to get their first goal.
After a challenge from the Aggies defense, which drew a rainfall of boos from visiting Thunderbird fans, Utah State came marching down the field. Returning midfielder Kanyan Ward found newcomer Rachelle Parrish on a breakaway that put the home team up 1-0.
The remainder of the half would be fairly quiet, with the exception of a handful of saves from Aggie goalie Maggie Richey, who would end up with all of the three USU saves.
Coming out of the halftime break, the Aggies were a team possessed. After spending early minutes in the first half on their heels, Utah State came right at Southern Utah and rattled off three shots within the first five minutes.
Midfielder Bailee Hammond would take control of the ball near the 54th minute, near the midfield line, and proceed to take it into the box by herself. After a nifty move on a Thunderbird, Hammond drilled in the second goal of the match.
“For that run, I needed a lot of energy and I got it from my team first,” Hammond said.
“And then I think we just fed off of that.” Hammond added she could hear associate head coach Trevor Wachsman “in [her] ear” as she blazed down the field.
Hammond said she is eager to take on a more involved offensive role after the team lost Jessica Brooksby, who graduated after setting the single-season assist record for the school.
“I’m not Jess Brooksby but I bring things that Jess didn’t,” Hammond said.
“As a team, we’re trying to get used to it – without her being that solid go-to, but I’m excited to take on the challenge.”
Just 90 seconds after Hammond’s drive, Ward would have her own goal in the match. A cross was played into the box, and after it had been re-directed from forward Karstyn Peterson, Ward knocked in the Aggies third goal of the afternoon.
Defense and depth were two of the strongest points Utah State displayed Friday afternoon. The Aggies allowed five shots in the first half but only one in the second. Sophomore defender Mealii Enos was proud of her teammates rising to their own expectations.
“We had just talked yesterday about coming out and playing with passion,” Enos said.
“We kind of ran them into the ground in the second half. Everyone came in this season super fit, super ready to go, and I think that showed on the field today.”
Freshman forward Sadie Mertlich would join the scoring parade after defender Emma Clark saved a ball headed toward the goal line and flicked it to her teammate. Mertlich would seal the Aggie victory 4-0.
The match will not go on the season’s record but it was a good showcase for the Aggies, presenting opportunities for both starters and incoming role players. The team featured three goalkeepers, with Richey playing all of the first half and a second half of Sara Cobb and Samantha Aguilar.
The Aggies were recently picked to finish fourth in the division in a coaches’ preseason poll. Reigning champs UNLV were picked third and San Diego State was voted first.
The Aggies finished in a tie for third pace last season.
Utah State will open up their regular season with a pair of home games against South Dakota St. and Montana Aug. 18 and 20, respectively.