The Region 7-AAAAA schedule did the Cass girls soccer team no favors this season.
With their first two games coming against, by far, the best teams in the region in Carrollton and Rome, the Colonels suffered through consecutive heartbreaking defeats.
Then came the turning point.
Just two minutes before a third successive one-goal loss, Logan Vermaas scored against Paulding County. Cass went on to win in a penalty shootout, and, suddenly, the Colonels had their confidence back.
It shined through in a convincing 3-0 home win over Bartow County rival Woodland on Friday at Doug Cochran Stadium.
“We had a really tough game against Paulding County, and I think it helped build the team,” Cass coach Shannon Brennan said Friday. “We’re really starting to play together. …
“They’re finally passing, working together, making runs and communicating. The communication was so much better tonight.”
A team that often needed 20 or so minutes to get going, Cass (4-7, 2-2) came straight out of the gate Friday with intense pressure.
During a dominant first half, the Colonels won every ball out of the air, beat the Wildcats to every 50-50 ball and fought to regain possession on the rare occasions they lost it.
“We just didn’t fight for the ball in the first half,” Woodland coach Jonathan Cannon said. “When you don’t fight for the ball, somebody is going to take it.”
It took only 12 minutes for Cass to grab the lead.
Vermaas sent a looping shot just over goalkeeper Esmeralda Hernandez’s hand and just under the crossbar for a 1-0 advantage.
Minutes after Hernandez denied Lupita Pineda on a shot destined for the upper 90, the Cass junior got her deserved goal.
A 27th-minute corner kick sent in by Vermaas came right to the edge of the 6-yard box, where Pineda ducked down to place her stooping header into the bottom corner.
With Woodland (4-5-1, 2-2) reeling, the Colonels struck for a massive third goal just two minutes later.
After a handball just outside the box, Vermaas sent the direct free kick directly into the back of the net as the Wildcats’ wall disintegrated.
As expected, Woodland came out much better in the second half.
“Just told them to stay confident, prepare for them to come back,” Brennan said of the halftime message. “Nobody is just going to roll over and give you a win.”
The Wildcats had several clear-cut chances to get a goal back in the opening 10 minutes, but they couldn’t find a way past Brianna Bullock.
While the Cass goalkeeper happily watched a few wasteful shots fly over the crossbar, the senior made plenty of key stops herself.
The biggest came when Woodland star Kaitlin Winnenberg received a great pass from Tiera Feanny and found herself one on one with Bullock.
Winnenberg powered her shot straight at the keeper, who stayed big to keep the Wildcats off the board.
“We started winning some of the 50-50s and started getting some better quality shots,” Cannon said of the second half. “But when you’re down 3-0, you need something quick, and we weren’t able to find the seams to make that happen.”
The same night Cass pulled out the win against Paulding County, Woodland crushed Kell by a 6-1 margin.
Even with facing a county foe — in a region game, no less — there didn’t seem to be the same fight from the Wildcats.
However, Cannon isn’t pushing the panic button with a state tournament bid still firmly on the table.
“I’m disappointed, just because I don’t like to lose in general,” Cannon said. “But to lose in county? Unfortunately, this year, we’re 0 for the county. But we still have a long way to go. …
“There’s concern, though, but there’s no worry. We’ll have a chance at doing what we want to do.”
After starting 0-2 in region action, Cass has an outstanding chance to reach the postseason. The Colonels have a golden opportunity to pick up two more wins next week against the only two winless teams in the region.
And to think, had it not been for a late equalizer Tuesday, Cass might have finished the week at the bottom of the standings.
“That was the point for them, where we broke through and finally got it,” Brennan said of Tuesday’s goal that forced extra time. “You can win it; you can just push through and get it.
“They came out confident [Friday]. We got past that whole start-real-slow kind of thing, and we look a lot better."