BUFORD — Elexa Bahr found her sweet spot after a second-half formation change.
Bahr opened scoring for the second-ranked Buford girls soccer team just three minutes into the game Tuesday, but when coach Crystal Fowler mixed up her team’s positions after halftime, Bahr really thrived, netting four more goals to lead the Lady Wolves to a 10-0 win over seventh-ranked Mary Persons in the second round of the Class AAAA state playoffs on Tuesday at Tom Riden Stadium.
“We noticed that they were man-marking our forwards, so we tried to put more people into the offense to get some more production,” Fowler said.
Buford (14-1) extended its winning streak to 10 games and advances to host fourth-ranked St. Pius X (16-2) on Friday in the state quarterfinals. St. Pius X defeated Pike County 7-0 on Tuesday.
Fowler saw that the outside tended to be more open against Mary Persons (17-3), giving the Lady Wolves ample scoring opportunities. When Bahr and her teammates began to exploit the Bulldogs’ weak spots, the goals poured in.
“I know that everyone is flexible,” Bahr said. “No one is set in a certain position, so that helped us a lot, and communication got stronger.”
Maria Maggio was the first to score in the second half for Buford, followed by a quick succession of Bahr goals.
Bahr scored with 28 minutes to play, then again on a Kristen Edmond cross two minutes later. With 20 minutes left in the game, Bahr tallied another on a second assist from Hannah Davis before kicking the ball towards the goal, off a Mary Persons defender and into the net.
“Honestly, the first half wasn’t good for me, but I came off at the half and decided that I wasn’t going to let the defender throw off my whole mindset,” Bahr said. “I trusted myself and the fact that the goal isn’t going to move, and I just shot.”
Mary Persons goalkeeper Toni Kiwit held the Lady Wolves to a one-goal lead for over 25 minutes in the first half. Fowler noted that Kiwit was the key piece that kept the Bulldogs in the game, making multiple saves on direct shots and rebounds.
“That keeper was fantastic, she really kept them in the game,” Fowler said. “That’s a little bit of what we struggled with in the first half. We knew that she was good coming in, but we didn’t know how good. She shut us down in the first half.”
Bahr, however, learned to read some of Kiwit’s defense, and Buford took advantage, scoring most goals from an outside position.
“We knew that the outsides were a little vulnerable, and we talked about that during halftime,” Fowler said. “We saw that she struggled a little bit with the crosses, so we decided to fire there and see what happens.”
Brooke Horist pushed the Lady Wolves to a 3-0 lead at halftime after Bahr’s opening goal. Ambria Shutts and Peyton Woods assisted on Horist’s goals.
With 15 minutes to play, Maggio scored again on a pass from Edmond, and 28 seconds later, Brie Smith netted the mercy-rule goal with an assist from Mia Edmond. Smith also tallied an assist on one of Bahr’s goals.
Now, the Lady Wolves face rival St. Pius X. When the pair met in the state tournament two years ago, Pius defeated Buford 7-3, but Fowler feels that this team has more confidence and focus than the team of the past.
“I definitely see a difference,” Fowler said. “After the Blessed Trinity game, the girls really believed they could do this.”
She also noted that her team is more versatile this season than in years prior.
“We’ve been practicing a number of different schemes and formations, so we can be flexible,” she said. “We will just have to wait and see what Pius throws at us.”
Bahr emphasized that the 2015 team is also closer in age than teams before, and their youth has helped them bond in different ways.
“This team is a bunch of young ones,” Bahr said. “We are all freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and that year the team was all seniors. Now, everyone knows each other and we’ve grown as a team.”