Off on the right foot

The Grizzlies of Ashland High used great ball movement, team passing and stifling defense to blank the Highlanders of North Eugene High 1-0 Saturday afternoon. The nonconference game, held at Ashland Middle School's upper-field, kicked off the soccer season for the Grizzlies.

The teams played to a 0-0 draw at halftime, but the Grizz controlled most of the action throughout. Fifteen minutes into the second half, Kalby Kemske scored off a pass from Nate Roupp.

North Eugene gave a decent effort to begin the contest, having a quick foray into Ashland territory. But, the Grizz wrested control away from the Highlanders and never looked back.

Through the duration of the first half Ashland attacked the North Eugene goal, registering five shots on goal, and harassed the Highlanders defenders into turnover after turnover. Despite having more open looks at the goal, Ashland couldn't find the net. On a bright note for the Highlanders, keeper Adam Knight, managed eight saves on the day.

In perhaps one of the more interesting plays of the day, Knight managed a fully extended leaping save in the second half, after Roupp corralled a pass in traffic and sliced to the net. Roupp's shot flew toward the upper left-corner of the goal and Knight flew through the air and just barely put a hand on the ball, diverting it up and over the net.

Spectacular saves aside, not much else went right for the Highlanders. The Grizz thrived and the Highlanders melted away in the stiff Southern Oregon heat. North Eugene gave the ball back to Ashland on several unforced errors in passing and in bounding.

The win was a good start to the season for Ashland after last year's disappointing finish, and if Saturday's play is any indication the rest of the Southern Sky Conference has a lot to deal with in the future.

"It's nice to have a win in our first game of the season," senior midfielder Alex Murray said. "We have a barometer now to measure our success: we can see what we did good, and what we need to improve."

Ashland did a good job of moving the ball as individuals. The Grizz out-shot the Highlanders 10-2, as well as using downfield passing to take advantage of an overzealous Eugene squad.

Although not kept as an official stat, the Grizzlies out-hustled and out-worked the Highlanders as well. Contesting every pass, every shot and any attempt to move the ball downfield, the Ashland midfielders and defense line ultimately kept North Eugene from having any chance of success.

Frustration reared its ugly head and Highlander players began snapping at the referees and at each other. Rather quickly, North Eugene became its own worst enemy, and left the game in the hands of the Ashland players.

"We needed to work on our finishing and shooting," Ashland junior defender Sam Fleuter said. "The speed of the play will start to come when we've been playing together for a little while longer."

"This week we worked on our control, and really wanted to bring that into this game," Murray added.

The Grizzlies are in action again Tuesday against the Panthers of South Medfor. The game is set to begin at 6 p.m. at Spigelberg Stadium.

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