LENOIR — Last season, Hibriten and Fred T. Foard’s girls soccer teams scored just one goal over 180 minutes of play in two matches as Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference foes. Although the conference rivalry has been set aside for the next four seasons, on Tuesday night, the two defenses stared down, held down and clamped down the opposing offenses with the result at Hibriten ending in a scoreless tie.
Although the former conference dissolved in the latest conference realignment that began with the current academic year, Hibriten coach Shea Bridges said there was no question the teams would continue to play each other.
“Stan and I play against each other every year,” said the Panthers head coach of Foard’s head coach Stan Elliott. “And we’re very competitive. We’ve been 1-0, 0-0, 2-1. I mean, we’ve had some battles over the years and that’s why I put them on the schedule every year, now that they’re out of conference, because I know that it’ll test my girls.”
After winning their first five, the Panthers (5-1-1) now have a loss and a tie over their last two matches. Prior to Tuesday’s tie with Foard, Hibriten lost 2-0 to South Point, last season’s 2A West finalist.
“I want the girls to go challenge themselves right now at this time,” Bridges said of his nonconference schedule so far, which has included four teams that were in the postseason last year. “And see how we stack up against the good teams.”
The flow of the match was pedestrian in the first half with each side guarding against making a mistake. The Tigers outshot the Panthers 3-2 in the first half, with most of the attempts at the net coming from long range and each goalkeeper — Rylee Conard of Hibriten and Alexis Wolgemuth of Foard — making easy stops.
Each side did have a harrowing moment late in the first half. Foard’s came in the 39th minute when Julia Chesson’s corner kick from the right side made it to the 6-yard box and bounced off the head of Samaria Tipps into the arms of Conard. Hibriten quickly countered prior to intermission when Emily Elliott’s wide-angled shot from the right side went left of the post.
For his team’s part, Elliott said the Panthers’ defense was particularly tough to solve.
“It was a lot of play in the middle third of the field and both backlines are solid,” said Elliott. “I’ll be honest with you, they have two center backs that are tough to get around and that limited our options offensively.”
Both sides opened up the faucet to provide more back-and-forth flow in the second half. Foard had the best shot early, as a shot from Tipps inside the arc was deflected into a lob that Conard had to cradle for the save.
Hibriten’s Abby Kidder was the lone performer on either side with multiple shots on goal. In the 46th minute, a shot from 15 yards out on the right side was grabbed by Wolgemuth. Later, in the 70th minute, Kidder whistled a liner from the top of the box on target, which was stopped by Wolgemuth.
“His girls come and bring it every single time they touch the field,” Bridges said of the Tigers. “And they’ve got an all-world goalkeeper. It’s like we score on her, we can score on anybody.”
In finishing off the shutout, Foard (4-0-1) has yet to allow a goal this season and has surrendered three over the past two seasons, covering 20 matches.
Elliott felt his team had opportunities to score but was unable to capitalize. He said his team’s offensive output — the Tigers have scored 13 goals in five contests — is still a work in progress.
“I don’t think we’re going to light up the scoreboard by any means,” admitted Elliott. “I think we’re still trying to find things out offensively and figure things out, getting used to and accustomed to each other. Some days are better than others, but I like what we have on our side, and I like what we have to work with.
Foard’s next match is the Western Foothills 3A Conference opener at Statesville on Friday. The Panthers also play on Friday, when they will travel to McDowell for a nonconference contest.
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