PAWTUCKET — After her squad had sealed a satisfying 2-1 victory over Masters Regional Academy of Smithfield, Shea High head coach Danielle Bishop spent perhaps 10 minutes with her girls addressing their collective strengths and weaknesses.
Conditioning certainly wasn't an issue in the Raiders' Division 3-B opener at Max Read Field on Wednesday afternoon. Now she's hoping the collective mind-set for a long season will follow suit.
“We showed some athleticism out there,” Bishop stated. “I think this is the best shape we've ever been in as a team. I have to give all of the credit to our captains (senior midfielders Kathleen Gomes and Jessica Caetano). They held some Captains' practices over the summer, and they told me they were doing a lot of running.
“I saw that conditioning here (Wednesday),” she added.
A year ago, Bishop's bunch qualified for the playoffs but dropped a preliminary-match decision to archrival Tolman, which later suffered the same fate to state D-3 champion Middletown in the finals last November. When asked if her Raiders could contend for another post-season berth, Bishop grinned, “I don't know how we're going to do, but we're off to a good start.”
Senior Dilma Goncalves and Gomes each recorded goals for the hosts, while freshman goalie Jackie Goncalves made a superb debut with four saves. As for the stellar (and, just once, over-aggressive) defense, sophomores Liliana Delacruz and Monica Vieira, junior Karla Argueta, Gomes and Dilma Goncalves paved the way to the triumph.
For the Warriors (0-1), junior Sharon Granata tallied the lone goal, while classmate and goalie Kieran McInnis stopped 12 Shea shots.
Midway through the initial session, Dilma Goncalves ripped a corner kick at the box, though McInnis responded with a scoop save. The latter wasn't as fortunate later, when Goncalves whacked home a feed from senior midfielder Anete Encarnacao at the 25-minute mark.
It looked as if Masters might tie it up with about eight minutes left before intermission when Granata raced down the left side on a breakaway and drilled a 22-yard left-footer at the netminder Goncalves, but it caromed off the crossbar.
Granata also had an opportunity to knot it with approximately four minutes left when officials called for a free kick from 12 yards out. The attempt cleared the Raiders' “wall” of four defenders, but Goncalves dove for a most impressive save.
Shea didn't need long to push its lead to two. Perhaps three minutes into the final stanza, Dilma Goncalves scorched a liner from the deep right side; the shot trickled through the crease, and McInnis pounced on it for another save.
About two minutes later, however, officials called for a Gomes' right-side free kick from 30 yards out. As luck would have it, a defender headed the try, and it flew over McInnis' outstretched arms and under the crossbar to make it 2-0.
At the midway mark of the second half, Gomes delivered a hard liner from the right corner at the Masters keeper, but she smothered it.
The Raiders actually seemed to give themselves a 3-0 cushion when Dilma Goncalves drove in an initial save from McInnis, though the referees whistled a goalie-interference infraction on the play.
Masters didn't get on the board until the 78th minute. That's when officials issued Vieira a yellow card for midconduct (they alleged Vieira hauled down Granata on a partial breakaway) and awarded a penalty kick.
The goalie Goncalves stopped Granata's hard grounder, but it trickled off her foot and slipped into the netting to slice the Warriors' gap to one.
Courtesy of outstanding defense from Dilma Goncalves, Gomes and Delacruz, Shea thwarted the rejuvenated Masters' offense over the final two minutes.
“I was really pleased with how the kids played together; just the fact they played in synch, despite never playing as a unit before,” Bishop noted. “A lot of my girls had to play different positions, those they're not used to, but they were able to adapt.
“Our freshman, Jackie Goncalves, I thought she did a great job in net for someone who had never played soccer before,” she added. “She almost pitched a shutout. I know she was pretty nervous, but it really didn't show.
“Our passing was pretty good, but we've got to do more work on staying in position; the girls need to know they have to play their areas (of assignment) … We haven't played any scrimmages, except for those amongst ourselves. Honestly, for the first time (playing) together, I'm pretty happy. I hope it continues.”