Prince George throttles L.C. Bird in opener
By JACOB VAUGHAN, Sports Editor
Mar 13, 2013, 14:39
Prince George sophomore Jo-Jo Taylor dribbles through a crowd of L.C. Bird defenders on Monday. Taylor scored twice, leading the Royals to a 4-1 win in the season opener for both (photo by Jacob Vaughan).
PRINCE GEORGE – Jo-Jo Taylor’s transition from consummate provider to clinical goal poacher was seamless. Just ask the Lloyd C. Bird High School girls soccer team.
The Prince George sophomore – who led the Royals basketball squad with 102 assists this year as a pass-first point guard – unleashed seven shots and scored twice in her soccer season debut on Monday.
Buoyed by the fleet-footed forward’s fast start, the Royals topped the visiting Skyhawks 4-1 in the season opener for both.
“It’s definitely a different role,” Taylor said of the adjustment. “When I’m playing point guard, I try to pass more. At forward, I try to score.”
Taylor was joined on the score sheet by teammate Caleigh Atkins and L.C. Bird midfielder Summer Bolton.
The Royals heaped the pressure on in the early going and took a well-deserved 1-0 lead when Mandi Cummings’ cross from the left flank was deflected into the visitors’ net for an own goal in the seventh minute.
Taylor pushed the gap to 2-0 by earning and converting her first varsity penalty kick 15 minutes later, but the Royals squandered several chances to put the game out of reach.
Prince George senior Dallas Smith, who will play at Virginia Commonwealth University next fall, unlocked the L.C. Bird defense with a handful of well-measured through balls that provided her teammates with break-away opportunities.
Prince George senior Dallas Smith (6) looks to bend a free kick around a wall of L.C. Bird defenders on Monday (photo by Jacob Vaughan).
More often than not, the chances went begging.
L.C. Bird goalkeeper Autumn Joyal – a Second-Team All-Dominion District performer last year – thwarted the home team with a collection of punches, parries and diving saves.
“She has great athleticism and a pretty good ability to read the game,” L.C. Bird coach Ashley Seal said of the senior netminder. “We’re definitely excited to have her for another year.”
The Royals were made to rue their misses when the Skyhawks halved the deficit with their first shot on goal in the 26th minute. Forward Meah Brooks latched onto a loose ball and drew a foul from a back-tracking Prince George defender in the 18-yard box.
Bolton stepped up to take the ensuing penalty kick and coolly slotted a low shot to the right of Prince George goalkeeper Sarah Stech. The remainder of the first half played out in back-and-forth fashion, and the once-comfortable Royals were left clinging to a 2-1 lead at the break.
Prince George coach Kendell Warren said he was “tickled with the chances” his players created but disappointed with their inability to turn shots into goals.
“The first half was a little rough,” Warren said. “We were happy with the amount of opportunities we had, but we didn’t capitalize. That was a little frustrating, but I thought they responded pretty well in the second half.”
Taylor couldn’t cash in on the Royals’ last scoring chance of the first half, rolling her shot wide of Joyal’s goal in the waning seconds of the frame. It took her three minutes to atone in the second.
The right-footed attacker outpaced a pair of Skyhawks defenders to a lofted pass from Cummings and lobbed the ball over Joyal’s outstretched fingertips to make the score 3-1 in the 43rd.
“It was a good pass from Mandi,” Taylor said. “I just happened to be the right spot.”
Atkins, a senior defender, made the final result a formality by heading home a corner kick a little more than a minute later to provide the final margin. The Skyhawks missed the third penalty kick of the game with 13 minutes remaining, and the Royals cruised to the final whistle.
“Our lapse in the first eight minutes of the second half probably put the final nail in the coffin, so to speak,” Seal said. “If we could take those eight minutes back, I feel like it was a pretty even-sided match.”
Warren credited his team for the second-half about-face and hailed the offensive outpouring as a promising sign. The attack-minded trio of Smith, Taylor and senior forward Valerie Belcher, he said, will play an integral role as Central District play approaches.
“When we get in the district, it’s going to be tough,” Warren said. “And the more chances we create, the better off we’re going to be.”
The Royals’ roster lists eight seniors, six of whom started against the Skyhawks. Taylor said the blend of youth and experience has inspired a sense of self belief on the team that finished second in the district tournament last year.
“We definitely think this is the year,” Taylor said. “This is it. Our seniors know what they’re doing, and they can lead this team.”
Warren echoed his striker’s optimism with caution, adding that he is expecting a stout challenge from reigning champion Thomas Dale. The Knights have swept every district tournament and regular-season title in Warren’s 15-year tenure.
“We’ll have to see,” Warren said. “Dale is not going to give it to us. It’s going to be a knock-down, drag-out fight. But I think our chances are pretty good.”