Lone exhibition a success for women’s soccer

Noah Thomas | Sports Editor

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The UNC Wilmington women’s soccer team got off to a slow, yet aggressive start to its lone exhibition game of the 2016 season. It drew a scoreless tie with the visiting High Point Panthers last Thursday, but not without leaving with a 12-1 shot advantage.

Though they could not find the back of the net in the first half, the Seahawks held a 5-0 in the shots category after the first 45 minutes. Four of those five, all from different players, were on goal. High Point struggled to get control of the ball early and that proved detrimental to its effort on offense.

Fresh off its first-ever win in the NCAA Tournament in 2015 over South Carolina, coach Paul Cairney faced the challenge of starting six freshmen after losing a bundle of talent to graduation. 

“One of the goals in an exhibition game is to try players,” Cairney said. “Every player that was healthy played tonight. We tried players in different positions and we left the field, didn’t give up a goal, no one got injured, that’s a success for an exhibition.

Those new faces gave Cairney decent production in the first half in spite of a lack of scoring. After making only two substitutions before halftime, he subbed out seven Seahawks just a few minutes into the second half in favor of fresher legs.

“They’re pretty fit, they played a lot of minutes,” he said. “I think they understand now the speed of play in the college game, and I think they’ve got to keep getting better at practice.”

High Point’s first shot did not come until the 17:15 mark of the second half. To that point, the UNCW defense had kept a stranglehold in time of possession.

“They looked better than I thought in some spells, to be honest,” Cairney said of his team’s ball control. “We actually haven’t been on this field — as you can tell, it’s in great condition — our field crew’s done a fantastic job. We’ve tried to stay off and play on our practice field, which is a bit smaller, and once they got in this space and they found more timing, it was easy to keep possession.”

One of the Seahawks’ freshmen, Baley Edwards, is a Wilmington native who started and played 67 minutes in her first game at the college level. She sent two shots out Thursday evening, including an open look that went wide right of the goal.

“It feels really good (to get out here in my first game),” she said. “A lot of nerves, but it felt really good just to come out here and play the sport that I love. It was really fun.”

Senior goalkeeper Carolyn Huddy, named to the preseason All-CAA team, took the field for the entirety of the first half before giving way to freshman Liisa Rahkola.

As great as it was for Huddy to be on the pitch again after a long summer, not a single shot came her way.

“Defense did really well,” she said. “Coming away with a 0-0 draw really boosted our confidence defensively … Defiantly for the back four, that’s a big step. We had two freshmen start in the backline today. That’s good for them.”

UNCW was picked to finish fifth overall in the preseason CAA poll. The Seahawks collected 45 points and were the highest team not to receive a first-place vote.