By Kevin Eickman
There were no championships or trophies on the line this past Wednesday as Milford Girls soccer hosted Laurel for the final game of the season. With senior day festivities scheduled for after the game, the hope was that Milford would be able to pull out a victory in what on the surface appeared to be a poor season.
The first half witnessed fairly balanced play, with both teams having equal chances but neither being able to convert early on. Laurel got the first break of the match with just under 10 minutes remaining, when they drew a penalty in the box. The Lady Bulldogs converted the penalty kick, giving Laurel a 1-0 lead that they took to the locker room.
To begin the second half Milford coach Donovan Howard moved Milford senior Silvara Santiago from her normal defensive role to striker. “This was her last game as a Buccaneer, we knew we wanted to get her up forward at some point in the match,” Howard said. “Starting the second half with her up front seemed like the right move to shake things up a bit.”
The Milford captain was not done however as the Buccaneers walked away with a victory “Once we got the first goal we knew we could get the second,” Santiago said. “We knew that the game winner was out there, we just had to go out and get it.”
Santiago almost scored her second goal less than a minute later, with the Laurel keeper able to make a solid save on the effort. It was clear however that the Laurel lines were stressed and that Milford was ready to pounce.
Milford gained the 2-1 advantage with 15:45 remaining as Santiago once again found the back of the net. Now playing with the lead, it was time for Santiago to shift back to a defensive role. “Silvara is such a versatile player that you could put her almost anywhere and she will thrive,” Howard stated. “Laurel was throwing everything at us those last 15 minutes but the back line held and she was a big part of that. Don’t mistake me, the whole defense played well today but it was great to see her shine no matter where she played today.”
After withstanding the Laurel challenge and hearing the final whistle, Milford emerged with a 2-1 victory. While the win only improved the record to 3-12 on the season, taking a look at how the second half of the year unfolded is reason for optimism going forward. “We had some freshman and juniors that learned a great deal this season. They came in here with the basic skills already and as the season went on you could see the talent level continue to rise,” said Howard. “It really wasn’t about the record this year, it was more about the future and I believe it is bright.”
Most of the seniors on the squad have been with Howard since he started as head coach four years ago. This reason alone makes them a special group, although Donovan believes there is much more to it than that. “To have watched these girls develop into quality citizens is what this is really all about. We play to win, there is no doubt about that but the real goal here is to be an extension of the educational process,” Donovan stated.
Besides Santiago, in the mind of Howard they have all stood out in one way or another. Stephanie Cabrera-Ruiz, Nadia Delva, Jessica Donovan, Wendy Lara, Amyah Matthews and Kaia Opalinski all drew praise from Howard. “These girls showed up day in and day out. No matter how difficult things got they always kept a positive attitude,” commented Donovan. “This has been a great four years but what I am really looking forward to is how they shine in the future. I see all of them going on to great things in life.”
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