After scoring 132 goals during last year’s run to the Class 3A semifinals, Cherokee Bluff girls soccer coach Calvin Cook wondered if his squad could match, or even increase, that kind of firepower during the 2022-23 campaign.
If Friday night’s 10-0 victory over Walnut Grove in Region 8-4A action at Yonah Field is any indication, the team appears to be right on schedule to reach that mark.
Behind a hat trick from Kaitlin Cook and two goals each from Carson DeMars and Amelia Dovie, the No. 4 Lady Bears rolled to 7-1 overall and 3-0 in region, after an hour delay to the start of the game due to heavy thunderstorms, as well as a continuous stiff breeze even after play began.
And while the 10 goals matched Cherokee Bluff’s single-game high for the season so far, Friday’s match wasn’t even the team’s best game, according to Calvin Cook.
“All in all, it was probably one of our slowest performances of the year,” Calvin Cook said. “The weather, the wind, the delay really took account, (but) in the second half, we really cleaned it up. (The players) settled down a little bit. I think the slow (pre-game) warm-up caused a little trouble, but once we got going, we settled down and opened it up and passed the ball around.”
After Friday’s win, the Lady Bears now have 53 goals on the season, and remain ahead of their pace from last year with an average of 6.6 goals per game.
And despite the delayed start and weather and field conditions, they wasted little time in getting started Friday, with Alyssa Stringer running down a long ball on the right wing and sending a cross to the left wing.
That’s where Dovie settled the ball and finished the play with a diagonal shot to the upper corner inside the far post to put Cherokee Bluff up 1-0 jut 4:01 after the opening kickoff.
Cook then used her power in the penalty area to score twice inside a 10-minute span beginning at the 34:34 mark, and the Lady Bears were off and running with a 3-0 lead before the match was even 16 minutes old.
And when Stringer and Dovie switched roles, with the former tapping in the rebound of a left wing shot from the former with 16:40 left in the half, Cherokee Bluff was in full command with a 4-0 lead heading into intermission.
That first-half performance, which included a good variety of ball movement and sheer athleticism, is something Calvin Cook says he’s seeing more and more of from his team as the season progresses, and it’s a welcome sight.
“The girls are loving it,” Calvin Cook said. “They’re playing for each other. They’re talking to each other. They’re finishing well. The defense was (also) a lot better in the second half.”
Kaitlin Cook was a big part of another big start to the second half.
The junior forward first dished off to Genesis Gamez, who slipped a shot under the crossbar just 10:08 into the second half, and then picked off a goal kick before blasting a shot from the top of the 18-yard mark with 23:36 remaining.
The goal gives Katilin Cook 19 on the season and 83 for her career despite the fact that she and DeMars missed a few games early in the season while closing out the winter with the Cherokee Bluff basketball squad.
But it hasn’t taken them long to get their soccer legs under them.
“Obviously it took a little bit,” the recent Georgia Southern commit Cook said. “It wasn’t that big of a transition because we play club soccer most of the year. So, we were really focusing on our club soccer, trying to get going.
“We’re really playing well a team (so far) this year, and the team chemistry has really gotten really close as a team. So the passing in the final third (of the field) has improved a lot, which has probably led to increased chances in the (penalty area).”
DeMars got a couple of those chances to extend Cherokee Bluff’s quick start to the second half.
First, the junior finished Dovie’s through-ball into the penalty area to end a string of three goals in the first seven minutes of the final 40 minutes.
Then, the junior scored again with 18:09 remaining for her second goal of the game to extend the Lady Bears’ lead to 8-0.
Those chances in the box have been fewer than usual this season, since she has played a more defensive role this season.
But while she is more than willing to take that role to help the team, she admitted that she relished the chance to push forward more Friday with midfielder Anna Gessner not playing.
“I’m kind of used to (switching back and forth) because I used to play midfield all the time,” DeMars said. “Last year, I played midfield, but against (tougher) teams, I played center-back. This year for my club team, I (also) moved back to center-back. So, I feel like I was accustomed to it already.
“It’s just trying to (figure out when to) get into attacking mode and when to get more defensive. I was willing to dribble (Friday) night.”
The Lady Bears applied the finishing touches with Eva Martin’s goal with 2:19 remaining and Dovie’s second goal of the night off a feed from Stringer with 32.2 second left.
Even with Friday’s big win, the general consensus among the players and coaches is that Cherokee Bluff’s best soccer remains ahead of them.
And DeMars is confident the Lady Bears can reach that potential thanks to the team chemistry they’ve built up since long before they even entered high school.
“I kind of feel like we’ve known each other for a long time,” DeMars said. “So we kind of know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. So we’re kind of good as a team to know that chemistry and know what (each) player wants to do.”
CHEROKEE BLUFF BOYS 3, WALNUT GROVE 0: Jackson Davenport scored twice off assists from Hunter Wilton in the second half as the Bears (4-6, 2-1) picked up an important Region 8-4A win Friday night at Yonah Stadium.
Davenport also assisted on Benjamin Arteaga’s goal just 2:11 into the match that got Cherokee Bluff rolling early.
Abner Rebollar made two saves to post the shutout in goal for the Bears, who are back in action Tuesday for another region home match against Madison County.