ATASCADERO — Penalty shootouts have been something of an Achilles heel for the Atascadero Greyhounds girls soccer team so far in this early season. Last weekend, in the Bakersfield-South High School tournament the Hounds lost in the second round of penalty kicks in the championship game to Stockdale and fell in the final game the previous weekend in penalties to Visalia-Redwood at the Harold S. Young tournament.
This time around, in their Mountain League opener against Righetti, the Hounds emerged victorious in penalty shootouts in a wild back and forth game to win, 4-3. Atascadero was playing without their senior keeper Claire
“I was a little nervous at the beginning,” Howell said after the game. “Because this was my first official varsity game but I got a lot of, ‘Oh don’t worry you will be fine,’ from my teammates.”
The game started exactly the way the Hounds would have wanted with a young inexperienced goalie defending their net. Less than 5 minutes into the game sophomore forward Morgan Ramos beat the Warriors’ goalkeeper to give the Hounds a 1-0 lead.
Atascadero controlled the ball and the pace for much of the first half, attacking from both sides off the field and forced Righetti to make mistakes. In the 19th minute, Greyhounds senior forward Haley Pires drew a penalty in the box and then hit an absolutely perfect bar-down penalty kick that bounced off the top post and inside the goal before bouncing back out (video below).
Righetti began looking deflated until late in the first half when they drew a corner kick that ricocheted out of the box and was then drilled back into the goal past a diving Howell. The goal re-energized the Warriors and their bench and they controlled the game for the final 10 minutes of play. With just a few minutes left in the half, the Warriors were able to tie the game, this time on a long throw-in just a few yards away from the end line.
The second half was very even for both teams and the tie wasn’t broken until the Hounds were awarded a second penalty kick after a handball was called in the box. Again Pires stepped up to take the shot and again she buried it, this time in the left side netting.
As the clock began to wind down it seemed as if the Hounds would emerge victorious in the first league game of the season when the referee called what looked like a rather inconsequential free kick about 30 yards out with less than 30 seconds to go in the game. However, the Warriors’ player struck the ball well and due to the wet conditions, the ball skipped just past Howell as she charged out to stop it, tying the game up in backbreaking fashion.
“When the balls got let in the girls just told me to shake it off and that it was no problem,” Howell said. “And then once the third one went in I kind of blamed myself but everyone told me to just shake it off. When we went into overtime I was really nervous and I didn’t want to let any more in.”
The Hounds and the Warriors played a scoreless draw through the two 10 minute overtime periods and headed the same scenario that handed them their last two losses, this time with a sophomore in goal.
“I don’t like penalty kicks like, at all, they are so stressful,” Howell articulated. “But my mom was a goalie and she just told me you have to pick a side and go for it and we have been practicing them a lot at practice so I felt confident, but I still had a little doubt.”
It was the Warriors that shot first, Howell chose her side, dove, and made the save.
“Once I blocked the first one I thought, OK you can do this, it’s possible,” she expressed. “Then, even if it went in I thought, it’s OK you’ve blocked one you can still block more and I just held onto that hope because I knew my team was counting on me and I really wanted that for myself too.”
Stopping penalty kicks hasn’t been the primary issue with the Hounds shootouts this year as they have also struggled to put the ball into the back of the net but on Tuesday this was not the case. Ramos, Pires and Kiana Subia each beat the opposing goalie to give the Hounds three goals and only needing one more save.
Howell again chose her side and again chose correctly. The team sprinted toward her as the ball bounced off her gloves signifying that the girls had won.
“At first I was confused because I never keep count,” Howell said. “And then I just got so happy, I was going to go back and pick up the ball but I was just too happy so I just ran to my team because I couldn’t hold it back and when they all started hugging me and patting me on the back I almost started crying because of how happy I was that I was able to accomplish something that I had trouble with in the past.”
Atascadero is now 6-1-3 on the season and more importantly 1-0 in the Mountain League. The Greyhounds’ schedule doesn’t get any easier as they will face Arroyo Grande, Paso Robles
Lohayza is working to come back and hopes she can make it back as early as Friday for the game against the Eagles but will ultimately shoot for the following Friday when the Hounds face the Tigers in SLO.