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Numb from a tie

Red Dragons’ hot start leads to draw with Poland

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Niles senior Emily Burnham, center, cuts through the Poland defense of Teegan Graff and Mary Brant during the second half. The senior had the first of the Red Dragons’ two goals in the opening minutes of the match.

POLAND — Penalty kicks, quick scores, physical defense and demanding play.

Wednesday night’s match between Northeast-8 Conference rivals Poland and Niles had it all. A pair of teams looked to pick up a conference victory as the midway point of the season quickly approaches.

Neither team walked off the pitch with a win as the schools played to a 2-2 draw at Dave Pavlansky Field in Poland.

“When we come here, we always expect a battle.” Niles coach Scott MacMillan said. “Like I told my girls, it’s a hard feeling.”

“You have a feeling when you lose, and we have a feeling when you win, but when you tie, you just have nothing. So, there’s a void there, so we know the next time we play somebody is going to have to try to win this game.”

Niles didn’t take long to score, with senior Emily Burnham netting a goal within the first few minutes of the match to give the Red Dragons a 1-0 lead. She was assisted by sophomore Brionna Bash.

Poland coach Joel Monaco expected Niles to come out of the gate running.

“One of the comments we said even before pregame was that we had beat them three times in a row last year and we knew that they wanted this game,” he said,” so we talked about that and having that desire.

“So, when we fell down 1-0, it kinda clicked in that they really wanted it bad, but I was proud of our girls that they persevered. They played behind all night and they kept coming back, so it was a good game.”

With 14:35 left in the first half, Poland tied the match after junior Bella Milano scored on an assist from senior Halle Sebest to make it a 1-1 contest.

The first of two penalty kicks in the match occured at the 8:10 mark with senior Katie Gallo giving Niles their second lead of the evening at 2-1 before halftime.

The Bulldogs kept Niles on their heels throughout the second half, as a young backfield fought hard to try and prevent Poland from netting the equalizer, which also limited the Red Dragons’ opportunities on offense.

“Well, my defense is young, but they’re very good.” McMillan said. “I’m playing with all underclassmen in my back.”

“First-year keeper (Cheyenne Zack), she just got the job because my keeper broke her hand, so she’s learning on-the-job training, so they fought well. I think our biggest problem was giving the momentum as we couldn’t get the ball out of the back, we got to work on a bigger leg.”

Poland eventually knotted the game with a penalty kick themselves after Sebest put one in the net with 12:53 left in the game.

Monaco said momentum quickly changed in favor of his team following Sebest’s successful PK.

“It felt like almost the entire second half there we had that momentum other than a few minutes, and I was really hoping that we’d cash in, but that’s soccer,” he said.

Senior keeper Deena Kassawat had five saves for Poland in the draw.

The Bulldogs advance to 3-3-1 and Monaco sees good and bad things in his team through the first seven matches.

“Our biggest strength right now is that we can fight in any game, honestly, you can match us up with pretty much anyone, and we’re going to be in that game,” he said. “We’re scrappy.”

“Our biggest weakness is, we just sometimes start to ball watch and get very complacent.” he added. “It’s almost like we play till we’re down and our backs are against the wall, and that’s when we start to play real soccer then, very feisty.”

Niles now sits at 4-3-1 and MacMillan thinks that the pieces are falling into place.

“We’re starting to figure it out a little bit, as with everyone,” he said. “”The COVID kinda took away all of our prep, so right now, we’re probably like we should be in our first game of the season. Without our summer leagues and scrimmages and our stuff, we’re right about there with the five or six weeks we would have played in the summer.”

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