By Dale Capps
Women’s soccer coach Eddie Radwanski intended Clemson’s first two games of the season to present a specific challenge.
The idea was to test his young team with a short turnaround between a season-opening road match against Auburn on Friday and the Tigers’ home-opener with Furman on Sunday.
That test became exponentially more demanding when Clemson battled Auburn to a scoreless draw in a 110-minute overtime tilt that wasn’t finished until around midnight because of a two-hour weather delay. And despite the complication of extra fatigue, the Tigers were able to regroup and control possession against Furman and claim a 1-0 victory on the strength of a second-half goal by freshman Catrina Atanda.
“Against Auburn, who got to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season, I was really proud of our performance because I deliberately scheduled it that way,” said Radwanski. “I wanted to baptize our young team and knew it would be a challenging environment against a good SEC opponent. I got a little bit more than I bargained for with the two-hour delay. We kicked off at 9:00, and when the game finished it was 11:58 PM. We didn’t get home until about 5:00.
“We played well and probably could have won the game. We actually played better than we did against Furman. We had good ball movement, good commitment, and were unlucky because we had a couple of good chances. I really thought two of them were going in, and we were just a little bit unfortunate.
“But then to come back here on the short turnaround was the challenge, and I deliberately scheduled someone who wasn’t an easy opponent. Furman’s a good team, and they’ve given us problems. But the kids responded. Furman didn’t play Friday, so they were fresh. So we had the challenge of, ‘Okay, can we handle this?’, because it’s a big rivalry game for them.”
Attack-wise, the Tigers were the aggressors in both contests – outshooting Auburn 15-7, and Furman 25-7 – though Atanda’s game-winner against the Paladins in the 55th-minute was the lone pay-off. The goal seemed a just reward for the type of one-way traffic the Tigers were generating, as Atanda converted a rebound after Furman keeper Rose Hull stretched to parry a heavy strike by Tiger freshman Tori Andreski.
“I was pleased when Tori stepped into the game, because she had an immediate impact,” said Radwanski. “She picked up the ball and just hammered it. That ball had great movement on it, which caused the keeper to bobble, which is where the goal came from. Besides scoring the goal, Catrina had some good moments and was dangerous.
“Vanessa Laxgang had a good game. She had a lot of energy and was moving and trying to connect passes. Our back four did a decent job of defending, and obviously with Kailen (Sheridan) in goal, we have a unique talent there.
“It was a good collective effort, though I felt for the young players because there was a lot of nervous energy out there, especially in the opening minutes of the first half. I was kind of laughing to myself and saying, ‘There it is! You can just see it. You can’t get your second-wind, and your first-touch is a little nervous.’ It happens, but I felt they settled down pretty good, and I’m pleased that we got to play a good opponent, and that we were tested.”
Because defensive organization is the priority early in the season, Radwanski isn’t overly anxious about the lack of finishing. Against Furman the Tigers progressively delivered more useful-looking balls into the box, and Radwanski said that the goal was the result
“We got in the box and we didn’t panic,” he said. “We passed the ball around and we were patient, and we just need to do a little bit more of that. We talked about it at halftime as far as what was the quality of the service, and what was the type of delivery that was given, and asked if we could be a little bit more composed there. In the opening five minutes of the second-half we were, and that’s where the goal came from.
“We don’t have that upperclassman who’s a really potent goal-scorer. Tabitha (Padgett) works hard and will certainly help us with what we’re doing, but isn’t necessarily that prolific threat. But we have a lot of freshmen and they still have some things to learn, and we’ll have to give them a little bit of time.”