Talia Tapper’s defensive prowess exhausted Landstown’s forwards all night in Friday’s girls soccer Coastal Conference opener. But it was her offense, in one big play at the end of the match, that turned the game.
The Kellam senior midfielder spent all 80 minutes helping the Knights’ back line stall the Eagles’ attack to the point of visual frustration.
Landstown’s defense, anchored by standout goalkeeper Jasmine Crawley, was equally sturdy. The match remained scoreless into the 79th minute, when the Knights had one final gasp.
Kellam needed something special to break Crawley, regarded as one of the state’s top goalies. Tapper switched into attack mode and delivered.
“When we need something special,” Knights coach Mario Hurdle said, “she’ll come up.”
A yellow card on Eagles star defender Carrie Knapp set up a free kick for Kellam, and with it, Knights senior forward Allyson Giannone sent a nicely-placed laser at the goal. Tapper perfectly timed a redirect kick past a sprawled Crawley for the game-winner in a 1-0 thriller.
“We knew Crawley is tough to shoot on from distance because of her range, so I told them we need to get in on her and find a way to guide it in,” Hurdle said.
Hurdle said Tapper “could play anywhere on the field and be a dangerous factor.”
“She’s just by far one of the best players in the state,” he said.
Landstown kept the closing seconds of the match interesting. On the Eagles’ last possession, sophomore midfielder Kelcie Fisher collected a loose ball in Kellam’s zone and rifled a shot from 30 yards out that clanged off the top bar.
Kellam’s midfield and defense, anchored by Tapper and senior midfielder Sydney Rife, neutralized the speed and explosiveness of Landstown’s top threat, Alyse Stukey, who was held to one shot.
The Knights locked down in transition and limited the Eagles to smaller windows of opportunity. Landstown generated its first and only corner of the game in the 72nd minute — a testament to the Knights’ disciplined trapping and ball-clearing in the final third of the field.
“Our girls battled there against a solid team with a lot of difference-makers,” Hurdle said of his defense. “They contained and controlled.”
Kellam missed on a couple of chances to strike first earlier in the match. Sophomore forward Madeline Caswell put constant pressure on the Eagles’ back line and swung high on an opportunity 10 yards out in the 22nd minute. She was later denied in the 73rd minute by a highlight-reel save by Crawley. Giannone was also stopped by Crawley from 10 yards out in the 46th minute, and in the 55th minute she nearly finished on a cross pass from senior forward Madison Lees.
“We had tons of chances,” Hurdle said. “It just took one to go through.”
In a match in which neither team dominated ball possession, Kellam created more opportunities deep in the zone.
The Knights out-shot the Eagles 10-5 and generated more corners (7-1).
“This sets the tone for the season,” Hurdle said.