After a few blowout victories earlier in the season, the Newton girls soccer team has lived a little more dangerously in its past few games.
And while some might question that approach, nobody is questioning the results.
Junior Amber Karsten scored early in the second half to notch the Class 2A No. 13 Cardinals' third 1-0 victory in a row Tuesday night, and improved the team to 9-0 on the season with a victory over conference rival Grinnell at H.A. Lynn Field.
"It's pretty crazy," Karsten said. "I knew starting off the season that we were going to be good since we've been playing together since we were eight, and we just kept building our team up. We've been working really hard at practice and it's paid off."
A physical tone was set early in the game, which kept offense at a premium until about 10 minutes in. Karsten recorded the game's first shot on goal near the 30-minute mark and senior teammate Stevi Eggers followed up with another a few minutes later. Grinnell managed its first shot on goal about 15 minutes in, but Newton keeper Emily Forsyth made an easy save, foreshadowing the night she would have in goal.
While Newton's defense didn't allow any Grinnell threats, the Tiger defense was doing the same to the Cardinals. Senior Kaylie Rhoads hit the crossbar on a shot near the 19-minute mark, which proved to be one of Newton's best chances of the half. Grinnell didn't allow any penetration to the middle, and outside of a few one-on-one chances by Karsten, the first half expired with very little offense from either team.
"I think we like having some excitement in the game and letting the other team in," Newton coach Sackda Viravong said. "We told the girls in the first half they had to come out and play physical soccer, but we didn't expect that kind of physical play. We have to be ready to play that type of game."
The second half started much like the first, until the 38:09 mark when Karsten fired in the game's first and only goal. After attempting a header off a corner kick, Karsten gathered her own rebound and arched a shot over the Tiger keeper's head. The ensuing celebration was worthy of a game-winning goal, which it eventually turned out to be.
"I got the corner kick in and we've been working on trying to get a header in, so I put my head in," Karsten said with a laugh. "But then I got the lucky bounce and just stuck my foot out and put it past
Grinnell put together its strongest offensive push of the game after the goal, but Newton’s defense consistently rose to the challenge. Forsyth managed saves on anything from free kicks to deep shots from the outside and the Cardinal defense remained stout.
“Normally when they’re tired they’ll lose focus and concentration and make silly mistakes, but they didn’t do that tonight,” Viravong said. “They were patient and just pushed the ball to their teammates.”
The Cards had a few late scoring chances with a free kick by sophomore Rylie Udelhoven and a breakaway attempt called off by a foul, but those goals weren’t needed in the end. Forsyth capped Newton’s eighth shutout of the season with a few more saves in the closing minutes and the Cardinals celebrated their first victory over Grinnell in a little while, as well as a 3-0 start to the Little Hawkeye Conference schedule.
“There’s a lot at stake with this rivalry. They beat us the last two years and we didn’t want to go down at home again,” Viravong said. “But after we raised our intensity, there was never really a threat in the second half. We had plenty of opportunities, and we need to really focus on finishing those opportunities. In the last few games, that’s why the score has been 1-0.”
As one of just a handful of undefeated teams in the state, the Cards should see a jump in the rankings when the next set is released on Thursday. While rankings may not mean much more than a number in the long run, they certainly do acknowledge what the team has been able to do, and what it’s hoping to do for the remainder of the season.
“At the beginning of the season we were shaking off our jitters from not playing for a while, and now we’re just clicking,” Karsten said. “Obviously we have some pregame nerves, but once we’re on the field, we’re set.”