By Bruce Sayler
Only a short second-half burst seemed to be the difference. Helena Capital probably had the edge in time of possession, but a scrappy Butte High defense nullified the factor.
So, it was small portion of the second half where the Bruins prevailed and they won a 4-1 Western AA Conference girls’ soccer decision over Butte High on Thursday at Bulldog Memorial Stadium. It was Butte High’s season home opener.
Capital had owned a 1-0 halftime edge thanks to Katerina Routzahn finding herself alone in front of the Bulldogs’ net after blunting and setting a teammate’s pass. She stroked it in during the earlier portions of the period and Butte High’s defense repelled Bruin attacks the rest of the half.
The denial took persistence, as in one of several notable saves by Bulldog goalkeeper Jessie Trudgeon. She turned an error into a gem when a shot slipped between and through her hands toward the goal. She jumped on it and covered in the nick of time before the ball would’ve rolled into the goal.
Capital was persistent, too, though and Kathryn Emmert applied enough English on a kick to spin a bounce shot around the Butte High defense and tuck into it the net away from the goalie side for the go-ahead score. Only seconds later, the Bruins made it a 3-1 game when Taylor Lay rushed ahead in dash from the congregated jam 10 yards out on goal. She passed goalie for an open shot and Capital’s lead was 3-1.
Butte High quickly answered on the next possession. Ella Quist infiltrated the Capital defense lining up one-on-three 15 yards out front of the goal. Catherine Sholey possessed the ball and threaded her pass to Quist, who boomed over and through the defense for the Bulldogs’ goal.
“I came in after the game and wrote ‘74’ on the board (in the team room),” Zahler said. “We played well for 74 minutes. Six minutes of letdown hurt us. When we get this team to play 80 minutes, we’ll have something.”
The defenses held each attack of both teams in check for most of the rest of the way. Lay got loose again for a goal when she emerged from a crowd near the goal, spun behind the defense and kicked in a six-footer for the last goal of the game and Capital’s 4-1 win.
Zahler credited the Capital midfielders with controlling the outcome, setting up the few Bruin scores by spreading the spacing and turning the attacks inside to more accurate possibilities. It was experience advantage.
Zahler was reflective of his team’s anxiousness after the near-win, but appreciative of the desire to be better shown by the Bulldogs. This is Zahler’s first year back at the helm of the program after having also coached boys’ soccer, flag football and the kickers and punters of the Butte High football team.
“They want to learn so much,” he said of the Bulldogs of girls’ soccer. “We’re throwing challenges at them and they’re responding. They’re showing great resilience.”
He agreed the tone Thursday seemed attentive and enthusiastic.
“On defense, we played great,” Zahler said. “Trudgeon had some great saves. We’re trying to figure out how to generate some offense off of those saves.
“We’re asking these girls to play a brand of soccer they’ve never played before. It’s like starting over.”
The turnout emitted promise with 28 signed up and practicing. Zahler said they’re all helping each other.
“All in all, it was a great effort,” he said. “It was a hot day and until we can develop bench players to play multiple positions, this is all going to be about being in shape.”
The bench Thursday was only four deep, but help is on the horizon, the coach said.
“The bench is really, truly developing,” he said. “The varsity is developing. Development from the JV to the varsity is everybody helping everybody and everybody getting better. They all have a part in this.”
The Bulldogs lost at Helena High in their season opener last Saturday, then improved and narrowed the play level gap greatly Thursday, Zahler said. Butte High’s next match is set for next Thursday, September 8 against Missoula Sentinel at Bulldog Memorial Stadium.