After a rocky start in group play, the Pleasanton women’s soccer team found their form to secure some form of hardware in their annual Battle in the Brush Country tournament over the weekend.
Pleasanton walked away as Silver Bracket champions despite three losses in group play.
The Eagles opened group play with a 2-0 loss to Canyon Lake on Thursday, Jan. 7. Canyon Lake opened the match by putting Pleasanton under pressure within the first five minutes.
The Hawks earned a corner kick in the fifth minute of the match and Pleasanton was lucky to avoid conceding a goal after the ball harmlessly bounced through traffic in the six-yard box.
Canyon Lake would apply more pressure with corner kicks in the eighth and 10th minutes. They’d eventually break the deadlock in the 10th minute when Maddie Pipkin’s right-footed shot snuck under Eagles goalkeeper Sydney Merecka’s dive to the left.
“We’re still struggling to find our identity,” Head Coach Brant Bird said. “With the formation we play, it’s nothing new. We’ve been playing this formation for many years. But, having girls playing in positions that are new to the team itself is where we’re struggling. Them understanding the movement that is required of their position and how the intricacies of those positions work together, we struggled with in the first half.”
Pipkin would add the Hawks’ second goal five minutes later on a through ball from Shelby Rasor. In total, Canyon Lake outshot the Eagles 16-9. Merecka was forced into 11 saves in the loss.
Seeing his senior netminder and captain open the season in solid form is a good sign of things to come for Bird.
“That’s a very comforting feeling,” Bird said. “They voted her as captain. They have confidence in her, both in the way she plays and in the way she acts, the way she conducts herself on the field and off the field. Knowing she’s back there with the gloves on lowers everyone’s stress.”
Pleasanton’s best opportunity of the first half came in the final three minutes when Sofia Rivera’s 25-yard shot bounced down and out off the crossbar.
Bird said a talk at halftime helped iron out any miscommunication that was had in the first half and the Eagles looked better in the second half. However, they still were unable to find the back of the net.
“Some explanation at halftime made it sharper in the second half. So, it was good to see those improvements in the second half,” Bird said. “But we still weren’t where we needed to be.”
Pleasanton had two chances to pull a goal back early in the second half. Kaitlyn Garcia’s shot in the 44th minute was saved by Lexi Hettinger. Five minutes later, the Eagles were awarded a penalty. Garcia’s effort from the spot was parried away by Hettinger. Brylee Miller had another chance for Pleasanton in the 55th minute, but her shot was blocked by a Canyon Lake defender.
“That would’ve been huge, not only then, but in the first half when Sofia hit the crossbar on an outside shot. That would’ve shifted momentum,” Bird said. “In the second half, we were dominating the run of play, but just not getting the shots where we needed them. We had those two opportunities not go our way and that’s soccer. We learned from it.”
The Eagles turned their fortunes around in their second match of the tournament against secondyear program Great Hearts Northern Oaks.
Pleasanton shut out the Griffins 6-0 while also out shooting Great Hearts 23-2. The teams agreed to play 35-minute halves instead of the scheduled 40 minutes after Great Hearts lost to Alamo Heights 10-0 in their first match of the tournament.
“We had a nice long talk as a team after [Canyon Lake] and cleared up some misconceptions, I think, and aired some grievances, as [Jerry] Seinfeld would say,” Bird said. “I think that helped us tonight [against Great Hearts]. We weren’t as sharp as we need to be, but getting that first goal gave us some confidence and it kept on going from there.”
Four minutes into the match, Kenley Everrett scored the Eagles’ first goal of the season after Kaitlyn Garcia’s shot deflected to Everrett’s right foot. Seven minutes later, Garcia would get her goal off an assist from Miller. Garcia doubled her tally and put Pleasanton up 3-0 in the 17th minute on an assist from Renata Osorio. Addy Brymer opened her scoring tab a minute before halftime with a deft chip over the Griffin goalkeeper thanks to a Brandi Barnett assist.
Barnett picked up a pair of goals in the 42nd and 54th minute to round out the scoring for Pleasanton.
Merecka was only called to action for two saves in Thursday’s nightcap.
“This was really reassuring after a tough loss to Canyon Lake, that we can bounce back and have fun with the game,” Merecka said. “It’s awesome to sit back and see everyone clicking and passing and moving. While it sucks to not do anything, it’s reassuring that I don’t have to do anything.”
The Eagles needed Thursday night’s match in order to get into a rhythm after being shut out in their first two matches. This team has to figure it out for themselves after four-year starters Madelyn Bird, Carly Esquivel, Zoei Diaz, Delanee Olivarri and Kate McNeill, who’s experience guided them the last two years, graduated last year.
“It’s very important. Winning is a habit,” Bird said. “Everyone can say, ‘They were successful last year and the year before, the program is successful.’ That’s all well and good, but each year is a new year. It’s a new group of girls and they have to do it for themselves. They have to understand what it takes to win with this group, with these 18 individuals. We hadn’t experienced that until tonight.”
Pleasanton found more tough sledding in the final day of group play on Friday. The Eagles lost 2-0 to Beeville Friday afternoon before suffering a 5-0 defeat to Alamo Heights that night.
The Eagles had no shortage in chances against the Trojans. Pleasanton outshot Beeville 15-9.
Miller had a chance to open the scoring in the 30th minute, but her shot was saved. Garcia followed that up seconds later with a chance that went wide of the goal. The two teams entered the break scoreless.
Beeville would open the scoring in the 43rd minute on a solo effort from Jacey Taylor. Taylor would double the Trojans’ lead in the final five minutes on a counter attack from a Pleasanton corner.
Merecka was forced into four saves against Beeville. Miller had a team-high six shots in the shutout loss.
After the two losses on Friday, Pleasanton was placed in the Silver Bracket as the fourth place team from Group A. Saturday brought a complete 180-degree turn for the Eagles, however.
On Saturday, Pleasanton beat Wimberley 6-5 in a shootout after a 1-1 draw in regulation.
“I saw the girls executing our game plan exactly how we talked about in the locker room before the game and their defending was spot on,” said Head Coach Brant Bird.
He said the back and forth contest gave both teams opportunities.
Pleasanton and Wimberley went into the second half scoreless, but at the 60-minute mark the Eagles were awarded a free kick just outside of the box following a handball by Wimberley. Garcia put it in the top corner to give Pleasanton the lead.
“So we came in and just tried to do our best and we gave it 110%, we just stuck together,” Garcia said.
Three minutes after Garcia’s goal, Wimberley tied the game and no team was able to break the tie in regulation.
The first three shooters on each team made their shot, both of the fourth shooters missed their shot. It came down to Skylar Mitchell who scored the winning goal.
“Waiting for the kick, it was the longest 20 minutes of your life,” Garcia said, adding it meant a lot to beat Wimberly because they haven’t done so in a long time.
In the final game of the tournament, Pleasanton faced Beeville and won 2-1 to avenge Friday’s loss.
Sydney Merecka had five saves in the second game against Beeville and only gave up one goal.
“It was really kind of reassuring because we lost to Beeville yesterday and it was kind of just like we can still hang with these teams like we’re finally clicking,” Merecka said.
At the 30-minute mark, Beeville scored a goal, but Brylee Miller scored backto back goals in the 43rd and 44th minutes to give the Eagles their 2-1 win.
“Not doing so great from the other games that we played it was really good to beat Wimberley and then to have our mind set on beating Beeville,” Miller said. We pulled through and it was amazing.”
She credited herself being in the right position from listening to coach Bird.
Pleasanton (3-4) traveled to Boerne on Tuesday night. They host Corpus Christi Veterans Memorial on Friday.