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Grizzlies' season opener called off at halftime due to smoke

MEDFORD — Wednesday afternoon’s trip to U.S. Cellular Community Park provided the Ashland High girls soccer team something they hadn’t seen much of during the month of August.

Time on an actual field.

But just as has been the case as Ashland prepared for its season opener, the smoke played a role in things once again.

The Grizzlies’ season opener lasted all of 40 minutes, with St. Mary’s taking a 2-0 lead into halftime before the game was called due to air quality getting progressively worse as the first half and late-afternoon in Medford went on.

Just the simple fact his team could get onto the field and actually play — albeit for about half as long as the Grizzlies thought at the start of the day — was enough for Ashland head coach Eric Wolff.

“We didn’t have a chance to play a jamboree because of the smoke and we have huge turnover because we lost 12 seniors and virtually a new team, so we just needed to get out there and get some playing time in,” Wolff said. “They’re rusty, they haven’t had any game time, practices have been in the gym, so getting out onto the big field is a transition and actually playing competitively is different than practice, too. It was just a good wakeup call for us and it get better as the game progressed.

”They’re learning from their mistakes and that’s all I wanted from them today. Make a mistake, learn from your mistake, try not to make it again and have some fun along the way.”

The Grizzlies’ roster most definitely has a much different look to it than it did 12 months ago.

One that was dominated by upperclassman last season now has more freshman (7) than it does seniors (6).

That young Grizzlies squad returns to the field next Tuesday, Sept. 4, when it plays they home opener against Klamath Union. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Ashland.

“We have a lot of freshman, so they’re not used to playing what is basically Under-18 soccer. The change of speed is much faster than what they’re used to, so that’s a transition and they got a little bit of exposure to that which is good,” Wolf said. “Like I said, they made mistakes but they were getting better as we played on (Wednesday).”

Wolff admitted his team probably had a good amount of jitters heading into Wednesday’s trip to Medford, one where St. Mary’s scored both of its goals — one each by Gabi Castillo and Meghan Michels — within the first 15 minutes as the Crusaders displayed their speed on the wings to get behind the Grizzlies’ defense.

“They were just playing their flat four way too high, and that’s my fault. We didn’t really have a chance to practice on the big field much, so they just played their flat four too high and it played into St. Mary’s hand because they have fast strikers who like the long ball over the top,” Wolff said. “We kinda served it up on a platter for them, it was nice of us, but we talked about it and they made adjustments and it was looking better. There was quick learning taking place.”

The bright side for the Grizzlies was that they settled in as the game went on.

Although they didn’t record a shot on goal over the course of the game, Ashland was far from a side that was just pinned back in its own defense third of the field.

After St. Mary’s, courtesy of Michels, scored its second goal in the 15th minute, the Crusaders didn’t record another shot the rest of the half.

St. Mary’s finished with five shots total, with Ashland goalkeeper Nina Munson making a pair of saves. Another Crusaders scoring chance early in the first half was cleared off the goal line.

“The trajectory is right. We started rough, but we’re getting better,” Wolff said. “It’s still just 40 minutes, so we didn’t have a ton of time. They’re not in full shape — conditioning in a gym is not the same as running out on a big field, so they were sucking wind pretty quickly. But I thought they got better and into, and we still have a lot of work to do, but we at least made some progress today.”

Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.

Andy Atkinson / Daily TidingsAshland High freshman Luna Wilhelm (6) and St. Mary’s senior Meghan Michaels fight for possession of the ball during the first half of Wednesday afternoon’s game at U.S. Cellular Community Park.
Andy Atkinson / Daily TidingsAshland High junior Jenna Altig, left, is shielded off the ball St. Mary’s senior Grace Weber as goalkeeper Olivia Lippert comes off her line to end an attack during the first half of Wednesday afternoon’s game at U.S. Cellular Community Park.