By Rick Atkinson

For the Anna-Melissa Tribune

MELISSA – In the wet, miserable cold of Feb. 10 at Cardinal Stadium, Melissa’s Lady Cardinals warmed up in the second half to defeat a determined Anna squad, 3-0, in the District 9-4A opener.

It was a match that remained scoreless until its final 20 minutes as Lady Coyote defenders fought off shot- after shot-on-goal. Lady Cards forward Hanna Waters finally broke the ice by slipping a shot into an empty net as Anna goalkeeper Payton Wickliffe came out to challenge yet another attack.

Kylie Kroese got the assist then, with 16 minutes left to play, booted home Melissa’s second goal – a close range effort from the left side. Waters came back to chip in the final score in the final 30 seconds of the contest.

Melissa’s shots-on-goal dwarfed the Lady Coyotes’ total, 22-7, as Wickliffe was kept busy posting 19 saves. Anna Blankenship went the whole way in-net for Melissa, collecting three saves.

“I think we had a lot of chances,” Lady Cards head coach Manuel Avila said. “I thought we moved the ball well. I really wasn’t disappointed in the play. We missed a couple of quality chances that maybe we could have put away and taken advantage early. But it just didn’t happen tonight.

“I went into the locker room [at halftime] and told them, ‘Hey, we’re playing good soccer. Just keep plugging away. Look for your opportunities.’ We also put emphasis on our wide play because we were kind of falling in love with just trying to play straight down the middle of the field. When they’re doing a good job, defensively, when they’re compressed, defensively, we have to play the ball wide. We did that in the second half and that’s where our opportunities came from.

“We felt like, hopefully, it was just a matter of time, but it was one of those games where you really don’t know if it’s going to be a matter of time. They fought hard against us. They played really well. They were very organized. We got the opportunities we were looking for in the second half and put a couple in the net. We’ll take it.”

The Lady Cards were without injured forward Payton Wallace - and that may be the case for two more weeks, Avila said.

Anna head coach Marlon Madrigal was asked how the Lady Coyotes managed to keep this thing scoreless for so long. “We just tried to keep them in front of us,” he said, “and, knowing what the formula is, make sure Payton gets a contested shot at her - and she can stop it. … But being tired and not having the experience we need to have hurt us. We realize this is how you gain experience, by dealing with these kinds of games.”

After the match, Madrigal spoke for a time to his sophomore goalkeeper, Wickliffe.

“All I was saying to her was, ‘There’s nothing that she could have done more,’” Madrigal said. “She’s one of those people that beats herself up, but there’s really nothing else she could have done. There’s four or five girls – sometimes that happens.

“Our performance overall, if you think about it, we played really good. … And they’re good. They’re really good. That’s probably the best Melissa team since four years ago – I think. And they didn’t have everybody there.”