DENISON – Melissa’s Lady Cardinals opened their season with four-straight wins at Denison ISD’s annual soccer tournament last Thursday through Saturday at Munson Stadium – claiming the first-place trophy with nary a goal scored against them. Lady Cards goalkeepers Brittany Morgan and Anna Blankenship helped make sure of that, ably sharing time throughout the tournament.


Melissa downed Class 5A Denison, 2-0, for the championship on Saturday after having blanked Bonham, Dumas and Amarillo Palo Duro in pool play. Freshman Lucy Hurst struck first with a goal midway through the first period, assisted by freshman Payton Wallace. Wallace then booted in one of her own eight minutes later, with a Reagan Eichel assist, and that was more than enough for the win.


All told, Melissa got off 27 shots versus the Lady Yellow Jackets – and banged 15 shots-on-goal to zero for Denison. Lady Cards head coach Manuel Avila also credited his team’s “stout defense,” led by Jenna Newkirk and Jenna Daniel, for keeping the shutout intact.


“Our first game was good,” Avila said, “but we knew we could play better. I saw improvement in Game 2 as the young players started to meld with the older players. By the last game, it was evident we were starting to come together as a team. When I think about what we were able to do this weekend, I realize we still have room to grow and that is very exciting.”


In their season-opener on Thursday, the Lady Cards romped past new district foe Bonham, 7-0, with three goals from Hurst and two from sophomore Macie Robertson. Melissa outshot the Lady Warriors, 36-0, and posted a 23-0 shots-on-goal advantage. As an added bonus, Avila got every one of his charges into the game.


“First and foremost,” he said, “I liked the opportunity that every single player got good minutes today. “They got some good touches on the ball, which is always hardest in the first game of the year. That’s one thing you look for. And I saw combinations of players that I’ve been looking at in practice. I saw them do well together. I’m going to continue to look at that as we move through the season, trying to figure out exactly which combinations play best together.”


Morgan worked the first half in-net and Blankenship came on in the second. “I thought they did a good job,” Avila said. “Ultimately, what we’ve been working on defensively is trying to stay composed. We don’t want to just dump the ball away. So the keepers got opportunities to get the ball but make passes out of the back and keep possession of the ball for us. This is something we need to continue to get better at.”


Hurst scored her first two goals in the match’s initial 90 seconds — one on a header from the left side and the second, a straight-on shot from 15 yards out. Wallace provided assists on both scores. Four minutes later, Robertson booted home a 15-yard shot from the right side and Lady Cards led 3-0. Hurst powered home another goal 19 minutes before halftime and Ellie Schaeffer added a left-to-right score eight minutes later.


Ten minutes into the second half, Robertson came back with a close-range off an Eichel assist and Melissa led, 6-0. Soon after, Morgan - who played a good 25 minutes up-front in the second half – kicked home the match’s final goal, with a Robertson assist.


The Lady Cards logged another seven goals on Friday versus Class 5A Dumas, with Wallace starting the barrage in the match’s first minute. A Lady Demons own-goal followed two minutes later. Ten minutes into the second half, Daniel’s score off a Hurst assist made it 3-0. Eichel punched in two goals down the stretch along with one from Hurst, and Dumas suffered one more own-goal.


Melissa took down Class 5A Palo Duro, 3-0, in Saturday’s first game, with two goals by Hurst and one from Wallace. Eichel and Reese Reddick collected assists in the win.