Tuscola soccer continues to show improvements in draw

Mar. 12—Tuscola soccer continues to show signs of improvement after Monday night's match against Enka.

The Mountaineers didn't manage to earn their first victory of the season but battled to a 1-1 draw.

"Enka is a good test for a lot of teams in our conference. They play very direct — nothing fancy. They're just going to hustle and play hard," Tuscola coach Ray Sugg said. "It was a hard-fought game. I honestly feel like we should have won the game."

Last season, Tuscola played Enka twice. During the regular season, Enka won 2-0. In the playoffs, the Jets won 3-0.

From the very start, the Mounties were the aggressors.

As soon as Enka took the kickoff, Tuscola was in their half and pressing.

"A lot of coaches don't put a lot of effort into a kickoff. To them, it's just a restart," Sugg said. "We figure this is an opportunity. If a team is going to pass it back on their kickoff, we are going to throw everybody we have in their half and try to score. Our goal is to score on the other team's kickoff."

The efforts worked, making the Jets uncomfortable in possession throughout the first half.

Within the first 20 seconds, Tuscola had already earned their first shot on goal in the game. A few moments later, they found another shot.

But both those early shots were directed straight at the Enka goalkeeper — a problem that the Mounties had throughout the night.

"I felt like we possessed better than they did," Sugg said. "I felt like we had a lot of scoring chances that we just didn't finish. We still have to work on what we do in the attacking third. We just get in a hurry. We have players that can score goals, but they were just wide a lot or we just shot them right at the keeper."

Later on in the first half, Enka earned the first corner of the game, but it was no problem for junior goalkeeper Nora Jenkins.

The game was Jenkins's first full game in goal, and she performed wonderfully.

"She was good," Sugg said. "She read better than we thought. She came off the line to intercept passes that were coming through. As a basketball player, she's not afraid of a little physical contact. She's got good hands. Her technique in three weeks of practice has improved by leaps and bounds."

Another big factor early on was the physicality of the Mountaineers.

Throughout the game, Tuscola was the more physical team, but it was most apparent in the first half. Several plays could have been called fouls, but the refs let the girls play through the contact. It seemed to be an advantage for the Mounties as well.

"I don't want them to get pushed around," Sugg said. "My backs are always going to be physical. My forwards are always going to fight you for the ball."

At halftime, the score was still knotted at 0-0.

Tuscola started the second half with an aggressive kickoff, taking the attack straight to Enka from the jump.

"You'll never see us pass back on a kickoff," Sugg said. "We have the opportunity to go forward. We can have everyone at the 50-yard line. We are going to be very aggressive."

Six minutes into the second half, Tuscola won a corner.

The ball was whipped into the box and as the Enka goalkeeper grabbed the ball, there was contact with a Tuscola forward. The ball popped loose and found its way into the net — much to the chagrin of the Enka players, coaches and fans.

"I didn't see much, to be honest," Sugg said. "It looked like a goal-mouth scramble. Our keeper gets bumped like that without getting any calls. We had a lot of better chances than that that we just didn't put away."

Just four minutes later, Enka got a corner of their own. The ball couldn't be cleared from the box and as the scramble ensued, it eventually found its way into the net to equalize the game.

"[Jenkins] almost had a shutout. That corner kick goal was not her fault," Sugg said. "We have conceded on corners in three consecutive games, so we will be practicing corner kicks tomorrow."

In the second half, the refs also found their whistles, calling multiple fouls each way.

"My philosophy is that the referees are like the ground conditions and the weather and everything else," Sugg said. "You have to play the way the refs are calling it. If they start calling touch fouls, you have to quit touching them."

Late in the game, Tuscola had a scoring opportunity off of a corner.

As the ball was whipped in, the Enka goalkeeper got the ball and knocked it to the edge of the box, where no one was waiting. The Tuscola players that had been in that area had crashed into the box attempting to win the corner.

"They all want to score, but they have to realize that sometimes to be that person, you have to hang out in the space that the defenders aren't," Sugg said.

Then, the Mounties had one last scoring chance with about 20 seconds left.

Enka was called for a foul near midfield. The free kick was taken quickly and found its way into a dangerous spot in the box.

However, there was a whistle. Tuscola senior Anna Roth had taken the free kick but had not brought the ball to a complete stop before taking it. That's legal in club soccer, which Roth plays, but not in high school soccer.

"She had to stop it before she kicked it," Sugg said. "We would have had a handball and a PK to win the game if she had waited. The girl chicken-winged it in the box. But I knew what he had called. The minute she did it I thought 'I hope he didn't see it.' But I don't blame her because when you play under two sets of rules, it gets kind of tricky."

At the final whistle, the score was still level at one apiece.

"I told them before the game that this was a game we could win if we finish our chances," Sugg said. "We could win this game 3-0. Or it could be a tie."

Tuscola returns to action on Wednesday with a home game against Madison. After that, they'll have a full week of no matches until heading to Franklin the following Wednesday to open Mountain 7 play.