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Howland edges out AAC foe

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Howland’s Alyssa Pompelia, center, regains control of a header during the second half against Boardman. She tallied the Tigers’ lone goal in a 1-0 shutout.

HOWLAND — The sun sets earlier. Cold air circulates. Fans wrap themselves in blankets. It’s officially past the midway point in the soccer season.

With teams gearing up for the tournament and finding a rhythm after losing valuable preseason time with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no surprise to see hard fought, gritty, defensive duels being played on the pitch around Ohio.

Monday night’s contest between Howland and the visiting Boardman Spartans was no different with the All-American Conference foes playing in a 1-0 match that favored the Tigers.

“Hard fought game from start to finish, I thought our girls did well possessing the ball,” Tigers coach Greg Mitchell said. “I thought we could have had another goal or two, but we created quite a few chances, which was good to see.

“Just like the fact that we were maintaining our composure with the ball and possessing the ball throughout the game.”

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Howland’s Gillian McMurray, left, punts the ball downfield on a goal kick during the first half against Boardman.

Howland’s Alyssa Pompelia knocked in the only goal of the evening — unassisted at the 15:25 mark in the first half.

“It felt really good to get one in,” she said. “Just to know that we were up too, it relieved a lot too because this is a conference game.”

Mitchell is in his first season as the coach of the Tigers program. He’s happy to see his midfield improving as the season has progressed.

“She’s (Pompelia) coming along,” Mitchell said. “We’ve been struggling in the middle of the field to get the pace that we want consistently. Both her and Kalliopi Gentis have been just growing from game to game. So, I’m just really happy to see her shoot the ball because we’ve been encouraging her to do so.

“She has a good shot, and it was nice to see her get one today finally.”

Pompelia has similar feelings about her offensive performance of late.

“I’ve been improving because I’m finally doing more than what I should be doing,” she said. “I’ve gained some confidence to shoot the ball more with my shot. It goes further, it’s kinda good.”

Boardman (1-4-4) has gone toe-to-toe with many of the Valley’s top teams lately, despite playing an underclassmen-heavy lineup. Spartans coach Mark D’Eramo sees progress, but emphasizes the need to finish on big plays.

“We played a very good game,” he said. “We had a lot of chances and we just couldn’t put them over the line, it’s been the story of this whole season.

“We create a lot of chances, but couldn’t finish, but the performance was pretty good.”

Being able to compete with the likes of Howland, Canfield or West Branch is something noteworthy.

“It just shows that we could beat anyone on any given day,” D’Eramo said. “We’re very competitive and no matter who we play. We’re going to go out there. We’re going to be scrappy. We’re going to fight. It’s going to be a hard game.

“No one is ever going to have an easy game when they play us. Let’s just get a couple wins out of that, but it’ll come.”

Boardman’s Faith Walston recorded eight saves in between the net.

Howland’s Gillian McMurray recorded her fifth clean sheet on four saves and knows what makes a good defense cohesive.

“Communication,” she exclaimed. “Being able to tell everybody where they need to be, how they need to do it, what options they have. It just helps everything out.”

The Tigers (5-4-1) took a 4-0 loss against Lake Catholic in their previous matchup. McMurray felt the rout gave them motivation to get the win on Monday.

“Lots of silly mistakes, and we learned a lot from it,” she said. “So, I’m glad we redeemed ourselves today.

“We prepared ourselves for the mentality of playing Boardman, so we knew what we had to do and we went out and executed it.”

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