TUCSON — A reconfigured lineup. An oddly shaped field and a long drive to the field.
While all of those reasons could be cited for why the 15th-seeded Higley girls soccer team fell, 4-2, on Tuesday night at No. 2 Tucson Palo Verde, Knights coach John Roberts wasn't about to make excuses afterward.
“We've played tougher teams,” he said. “We knew we could hang at this level. It was really more of a marking issue.”
By that, Roberts was referring to how the Knights (11-7-1) guarded prolific Palo Verde senior Jasmine Stokes, who notched three of the Titans' four goals including two before the 10th minute was finished.
“We had to change on our marking on (Stokes); once we figured that out we were fine,” Roberts said.
Higley didn't have its normal lineup on the field, with one starter out with the flu and two still recovering from concussions suffered last week in the regular season finale against Campo Verde. Roberts said that contributed to not properly guarding Stokes, as well as the fact Palo Verde's field was narrower than most. It helped the Titans (17-1) to score off a throw-in early.
Adding to Higley's slow start was a defensive breakdown in the 17th minute, allowing Stokes to put a shot toward goal that was deflected toward the net by a Higley player and onto the head of Palo Verde's Alexis Veney en route to the back of the net to make it 3-0.
Unwilling to quit, though, Higley continued to fight hard and for all intents and purposes won the second half. The Knights pulled to within 3-1 in the 42nd minute when Bailey Skipper took a corner kick from Madison Harrison and booted it in to get some early second half momentum.
Palo Verde re-upped the lead to 4-1 on Stokes' third goal, giving her 51 for the season and 137 for her career. But Higley got a goal from Dalia Linarte in the 49th minute to get back within two goals, and the lead could have been narrowed even more if not for some bad luck.
On two occasions in a six-minute span midway through the second half, junior Darreyl Woodson found herself on breakaways made possible by her blazing track-star speed. But both times, the fast but inexperienced Woodson drove too close to Palo Verde's goalie, enabling the keeper on both occasions to disrupt the attack before a shot could be made.
“It's just been a learning curve for her,” Roberts said of Woodson. “Next year she'll be a force.”
As should the Knights overall, as only four starters graduate from a team set to move up to Division II.
“We're looking forward to that,” Roberts said.