Crusaders girls soccer eventually wear down plucky Panthers


The Northwest Christian girls soccer team - eventually - was too deep, too physical and too experienced for an emerging Paradise Honors squad.

But the Panthers announced their arrival in the 3A soccer field during the opening half of the Jan. 9 game at Northwest Christian. Junior forward Sydney Rolfe scored early to give the visitors a 1-0 advantage.

After being on its heels in the first 20 minutes, the Crusaders drew even off a corner kick.  They took the lead on a highly unusual goal about a minute after halftime.

Northwest Christian  (8-1-1 overall, 6-0 regular season) kept pressing and wore down Paradise Honors (5-2 regular season), scoring twice in the final 10 minutes to win 4-1.

"We just in all honesty had a deeper bench tonight. I could turn and go four or five deep on the bench and not lose too much on the field. It ground them down and it was a matter of attrition," Northwest Christian coach Jeff Penzone said.

Penzone works at Ottawa University Arizona in Surprise and had talked to Paradise Honors' top returning player, Sierra Sweeney, a couple times during the fall. The senior mentioned how greatly improved the Panthers were.

Coming in, Paradise Honors was 5-1 and outscored opponents 46-3. Its only loss was to 2019 quarterfinalist Trivium Prep.

"I didn't know what she meant by better. But when they came out and hammered down against us I realized, ok it was a much improved side. They have #4 (Rolfe) who is a good player and #9 (Khaya Sims) who is a good player and then Sierra always does a great job," Penzone said.

First-year Panthers coach Scott Bergeron instituted an up tempo, short passing game this season.

And for a while it gave the defending champs fits.

"I think we came out really strong. The first 60 minutes of this game we played a tough game. I think after that second goal they had, that got to our girls and set the mood of the second half," Bergeron said.

Midway through the opening half, the home team started to get its first sustained pressure of the afternoon.

Following a series of corner kicks, freshman forward Jacquelyn Cook took one. Hers curved back toward the top ok the box ehere senior defender Belle Ress was waiting to slot it into the net.

Penzone said the tying goal relaxed his team.

Less than a minute into the second half his team received a gift. The Paradise Honors goalkeeper handled the ball in the half circle atop the box.

After the foul was called, she and the rest of the Panthers  froze for a moment. The whistle blew for the reset and sophomore midfielder Belle Floyd quicky hit the free kick into an unguarded net for an easy goal.

"Once the call was made, I instructed my player to set the ball and have it. They didn't converge and kind of waited and watched it.  She set it and shot it and the keeper was out of position," Penzone said.

Northwest Christian ground down the visitors from there, breaking through off another corner kick in the 81st minute. Junior midfielder Rachel Cooning's ball connected with Ress, who looped a shot over the keeper' head and in.

Less than two minutes later, a through ball unlocked Floyd for her second goal and the 4-1 lead.

Bergeron said in all his defense played well, but is learning to play against this level of physicality.

"This game definitely sets the tone of what we need to work on and how we're going to go forward. I've been looking forward to this game the whole season. Hopefully, we'll meet this team again in the playoffs," Bergeron said.

Though most of the 3A title squad is back, Penzone said he is emphasizing to his players that this is a new year and new team.

The coach admits his areas of concern are fairly miniscule.

"I think we need to be more effective in the offensive third. I'm ok with how we're stacking up defensively. The midfield was shaky to start but got better as the game went on," Penzone said.