For former coach Phomma Phanhthy, it provided closure. For new coach Annie Wickett, a chance to breathe easy. For the Fairfield girls’ soccer team, Saturday’s home opener was business as usual.
The Green Knights welcomed back the man who led them to a 2016 PIAA Class 1 A championship by scoring four goals in the first 16 minutes, on the way to a 6-2 victory Saturday morning.
“We knew we could do it. The coaches can definitely lead us, but when it comes down to it, they can’t walk on the field and play for us. We came together today,” said Annabel Anderson, who assisted the first scores and piled on the fourth herself. “Obviously it’s going to feel a little personal in some ways, but it’s nothing that got to us too much. The goal is to play our game and get better, you know?”
The Green Knight players said they didn’t lose any sleep anticipating the return of Phanhthy.
Wickett had a little more on the line, coaching her first home game against her predecessor. It wasn’t until Nora Clarke pounded the back of the net on Anderson’s final assist for a 3-0 lead, that Wickett finally began to feel comfortable.
“The players were definitely feeling adrenaline and nerves kicking in. I just wanted to make the program proud,” Wickett said. “We had a fantastic start. The players worked well off of each other and created a lot of attacking opportunities.”
The players said they avoided contact with Phanhthy during the week and for most of the offseason. Their only interactions came after the game as they shook hands with their opponents. Phanhthy tried to avoid letting any emotions get to him.
“They’re not a bad team. They played really well together,” he said. “It’s kind of a closure for me. With a win or a loss, it’s over and we move on. There was nothing personal for me, I’m just trying to get our team to understand what we’re bringing in.”
The Green Knights let their feet do the talking in the opening moments of the contest. A little more than three minutes in, Anderson dribbled to the right corner, briefly surveyed the action, then fired a cross to a charging Rio Strosnider, who hammered home the shot on the left post.
“I had more adrenaline going because we were so excited for this game, but I knew Annabel would get the cross there and if I didn’t put it in, that would just be disappointing,” Strosnider said with a grin.
The second marker came four minutes later, when Anderson sent a forward pass to Emma Dennison, who managed to stay back just long enough to avoid being called offsides before putting some English on the past to punch it past the keeper. Clarke made it 3-0 on a play similar to Strosnider’s goal for the 3-7 lead with 27:05 to play in the first half.
Less than three minutes later, Anderson showed why she’s one of the most feared players in the league. After beating the defender to the corner, she pushed up the baseline into the box and pounded a turf-burner to the far post for the 4-0 lead.
Having celebrated such plays for three years, Phanhthy was unsurprised by the striker’s success.
“She’s been great for the last three years. The only thing that stops her from getting noted is that other coaches don’t like the way she plays, but I personally like it,” he said. “She deserves a lot more than she’s been getting, but you have so much talent on that team, half of them should be all-stars.”
The shock and awe campaign came to a close as the Green Knights rested Anderson for 11 minutes, giving the Warriors enough time to focus their efforts for the next go-around.
Susky recovered nicely on the defensive end, but couldn’t get any of their four first-half shots past senior keeper Hailey Bolin, who finished with six saves.
The Warriors proved to still be strong on the set piece, breaking the shutout in the 26th mintute when Lilly Denis sent an arching ball from 35 yards out. Ashlynn Weger met it perfectly with her head for a no-doubter.
In the second half, Anderson was taken down from behind from inside the box. The Fairfield fans booed the color of the card she received, wishing for the crimson variety. Zoe Logue made them all feel a bit better when she peppered the penalty kick past the keeper with ease for a 5-1 lead with 20:36 remaining in the game.
Logue just as well with a couple of defenders in her face, placing a perfect chip shot past the keeper the likes of which have not been seen since her brother, Isaiah Logue, won his last PIAA golf championship in 2013.
Susky knocked home one more goal on a direct kick by Lauren Simpson to make it an even final 54 minutes, but it did little to bring the Warriors solace.
“We just needed to settle down,” Phanhthy said. “They came in here wanting to play for me, but I told them that it’s not about me. They tried. They’re still learning. It’s not a divisional game, so it’s good to see a good team. We had a rough week with Lower Dauphin, Gettysburg and Fairfield. Coming out 2-2 and 2-0 in the division? We’re good. No heads should hang today.”
Fairfield defensive captain Milly Heinbaugh was pleased with the defense, adding that she was grateful to play a team that provides a challenge as the Green Knights figure out Wickett’s 2-4-4 formation. Anderson and Clarke play the top, but Clarke plays staggered behind the Knights’ dynamic scoring leader, so she can provide support in the midfield.
The Knights acknowledged feeling much more comfortable after two games.
“We’ll have to keep working on some things defensively, but overall they did a really good job,” Wickett said. “There are still a lot of adjustments, but we’ll keep working.”
Susquehannock 1 1 — 2
Fairfield 4 2 — 6
Goals: S- Ashlynn Weger, Lauren Simpson; F- Rio Strosnider, Emma Dennison, Nora Clarke, Annabel Anderson, Zoe Logue 2. Assists: S- Lilly Denis. F- Anabelle Anderson 3 Shots: S- 6; F- 10. Corners: S-3; F- 2. Saves: S- Jordyn Prediger 4; F- Haley Bolin 4.