MAHOMET — Scoring early and scoring often. Two hallmarks of the 2021 Mahomet-Seymour girls’ soccer season.
Coach Jeremy Davis’ Bulldogs achieved both missions during a May 7 victory against Rochester, knocking off the Rockets 4-3 in a premier nonconference battle.
About 15 minutes into Tuesday’s Class 2A sectional semifinal between top-seeded M-S and second-seeded Rochester, junior Brea Benson possessed a chance to push the Bulldogs down that same path.
With the teams scoreless, she sized up a free kick 10 to 15 yards inside the offensive zone and let loose a frozen rope that headed toward Rockets freshman keeper Alyse Day.
“We’ve scored from that range,” Davis said, “and Brea struck it beautifully.”
Day had no intention of getting beat high. She rose at just the right moment and stretched her right hand to the ball, which was preparing to sink beneath the crossbar.
Instead, Day and the ball fell in front of the goal line.
“You’re talking half an inch difference, and then you’re up,” Davis said. “That probably would’ve changed the game a little bit.”
Rochester broke the ice barely a minute later and surged through the second half, topping M-S 4-0 and avenging that prior defeat.
The Bulldogs (15-3) suffered just their second shutout of the season and fell in a sectional semifinal for the fourth time during the last five campaigns.
“Once you fall behind ... you’ve got to roll the dice a little bit, because what’s the difference if you lose by one or four,” Davis said. “That put some more pressure on the back line. ... (The Rockets) were able to break in a couple dangerous things, and we were short on that back line.”
That shoe could’ve been on the other foot had Day not come up with an early stop for Rochester (13-5).
She added another big play with fewer than 10 minutes remaining, punching away a free kick from senior Nyah Biegler to throw salt in M-S’s wound.
“Heck of a save early on,” Rockets coach Brent Stuckey said. “And we told her just to stay in (the net) a little more than she normally would, because that stuff’s coming and you’ve just got to time it and high point the ball with the punch.”
Those arguably were the Bulldogs’ two most dangerous chances of the day. The latter occurred with Rochester already ahead 3-0.
The Rockets didn’t flip the script from that regular-season loss to M-S. They wrote a completely different one.
“Our girls as the year’s gone on, they’ve started to buy in to playing a different style,” Stuckey said. “Not just keeping the ball in front of us, but trying to string a few passes together.”
Rochester’s first tally had more to do with a Bulldogs mistake that anything, as they were saddled with a hand ball ruling in the box. Sophomore Maddie Gleckler converted the ensuing penalty kick for a 1-0 Rockets lead with 23 minutes left in the opening half.
The trio of Benson, Biegler and junior Cayla Koerner has accounted for a bulk of M-S’s robust scoring this spring. Biegler netted two goals against Rochester last month, and both Koerner and Biegler added one.
Rockets sophomore Claire Carmean marked Koerner and limited Koerner from entering high-danger shooting spots with any regularity. Koerner did achieve some threatening crosses, but they couldn’t find her teammates’ feet.
“They dropped a lot of numbers behind the ball and were like, ‘We’re going to look to counter,’” Davis said of Rochester, “and they were able to do that successfully.”
“Anytime you got a player out there like (Koerner), she’s always going to be dangerous,” Stuckey added. “So that was kind of a focus of trying to limit the touches and not letting her turn whenever possible.”
Benson generated two quality looks in the box during the second half but was aggressively challenged by a Rockets defender each time. Junior Elsa Wollet threw herself in Benson’s path late in the contest and suffered an injury that left her sitting on the sideline for the duration.
But it also kept M-S off the scoreboard.
“She said, ‘I don’t even know what happened.’ And I said, ‘You saved a goal’s what you did,’” Stuckey said. “We’re buying more into that (mentality) of ... everything’s got to be 100 percent all the time.”
Bulldogs junior keeper Grace Larson faced several difficult chances during the second half as Rochester found more success threading multiple quick passes among the M-S midfield and back line.
Senior Lula Staley banked two goals and freshman Jaden Stockton contributed another, though Larson also came up with a strong late save in tight on sophomore Savannah Maley.
Larson received a rare lack of offensive support, however, and a largely dominant Bulldogs season came to a screeching halt.
On the positive side, M-S returns nine of its starting 11 — losing Biegler and senior defender Maddi Claybrooke to graduation.
“Most of the (girls), it’s their first postseason and you learn from it,” Davis said. “When you can lose and be done, that’s perfectly normal to have those kind of nerves.”