By Rick Atkinson

For the Anna-Melissa Tribune

CELINA – It was going to happen someday – Melissa’s Lady Cardinals losing a district soccer match, that is.

Since the program’s inception, they and head coach Manuel Avila had a gone an impressive five seasons without a district setback, winning the district title each year as well.

But on Feb. 14 at Celina’s new Bobcat Field, the inevitable came to pass as the Lady Bobcats – after twice playing Melissa extremely close last year – came away with the milestone win, 2-0.

The result boosted Celina’s district mark to 2-0 while Melissa dropped to 1-1.

A penalty-kick goal gave the Lady Bobcats its 2-0 cushion with six minutes left in the first period. Celina’s first goal came four minutes into the match. In the second period, the Lady Bobcats seemed content to hang back and defend their goal as Melissa attacked hard for 40 minutes.

“I felt like we came out a little complacent in the beginning,” Avila said. “They scored early, in the first couple of minutes on the corner kick. That happens. You come into a game like this and you’re a little nervous, a little rattled. … Once we settled into the game, especially in the second half, we were really good. Unfortunately, you have nights like tonight where the ball just doesn’t go in the net. We hit absolutely everything except the back of the net. Other than them clearing the ball out they didn’t get on our end, they didn’t threaten our end in the second half. We spent probably 80 percent of the second half in their end, banging at their goal. … We couldn’t find the one that we needed to kind of spark us.”

Avila guessed that his team lost on about 90 percent of “50-50” balls in the first half. “We weren’t aggressive, we weren’t attacking the ball,” he said. “We’ve got to come back and do better. We’ve got to rectify the goal differential when we play them at home and see if we can get this district title after all.”

Avila added, “The second goal, I will tell you was very questionable. … There was a foul - [the referee] didn’t call it. He allowed play to go on. We committed a penalty. On our end it was a penalty but we were really questioning like the previous opportunity there. We felt like we got done in by that.”

Said Lady Bobcats head coach Steve Nichols, “Melissa’s girls have owned this district, well, ever since the district was formed. Melissa’s been ‘The Queen of the Hill.’ To be able to get a big win against them was huge. … They’ve had a lot of good players run through that program that have gone on to big-time college careers. They’re a quality, quality girls program.”

Melissa was without three starters this night - Payton Wallace, Lucy Hurst and Reu’Niya Chatman.

As for how the Lady Cards will deal with enduring the program’s first district loss, Avila said, “Honestly, I don’t know that, necessarily, it will affect them. If anything, it’s going to give them a little bit of fire in the belly. Sometimes that’s what you need. … My expectation is they’re going to come back with a little more intensity, especially when they play these girls at home.”

Melissa led in shots-on-goal, 8-3, as Lady Card goalkeepers Anna Blankenship and Abbey Maldonado shared time in the net. Each allowed one goal, with Blankenship logging a save.