The much-anticipated first meeting of the season between Coastal Conference girls soccer powers Kellam and Cox featured some of the area’s most talented upperclassman, but a couple of younger players decided the game.
The match was a back-and-forth battle of ball possession and equal scoring opportunities, going scoreless until the 62nd minute. That’s when Kellam freshman forward Abigail Dent collected a nicely threaded cross pass from sophomore forward Madeline Caswell and squeezed a shot to the back-left corner, past diving Falcons goalkeeper Maddie Arndt.
The score proved to be the game winner in a 1-0 victory for the Knights.
“It was a great build-up and strong finish,” Kellam coach Mario Hurdle said of the Caswell-to-Dent connection. “I told them to finish opportunities. It’s a game of momentum and we finished that chance.”
The match was scheduled as a ‘friendly’ and didn’t count toward the conference standings, but Kellam’s (1-1-1) first win of the season couldn’t have come against a more worthy rival. Cox was a 6A state finalist last year, and Kellam hadn’t beaten them since 2013.
“Gives us a lot of confidence for the season,” Kellam senior midfielder Talia Tapper said. “It feels awesome, especially since we beat Cox.”
“The day we play against Cox is always a big game” Hurdle added. “The game matters. It’s a rivalry with history.”
Kellam’s stout defensive back line, anchored by junior goalkeeper Sydney Swoope, forced Cox’s (0-4) deeply talented attack unit into tougher angles and more difficult scoring opportunities.
“We were just really physical and aggressive,” Tapper said. “We just put pressure on them quickly.”
While both clubs had their share of scoring opportunities, much of their offensive troubles were due to Swoope and Arndt putting on a keeper showcase in the second half.
Dent had an opportunity in the 51st minute, chasing down a loose ball 15 yards from the net with only Arndt between her and a goal. Arndt beat her to the spot and dove on top of the ball.
In the 54th minute, a Kellam corner led to a scrum in front of the net. Arndt made a jumping tip save before corralling a loose ball that had seemed destined for a Knights goal.
Just four minutes later on the other side of the field, Falcons sophomore forward Anna Michaud fed a cross pass into the box, where teammate Ryanne Davidson missed a couple of point-blank opportunities that were stuffed by a falling-backwards Swoope and the left goal post.
Swoope finished with eight saves to Arndt’s seven, while Cox out-shot Kellam 10-8.
“It’s huge for us,” Hurdle said of the win. “We still need to get better. We see (Cox) again at the end of the year. Their record doesn’t reflect how good of a program they are. They’ll be there at the end.”
Cox and Kellam will meet again May 15, in the thick of the conference race.