Sometimes season-opening games can combine nervous energy with a slim margin for error.

Such was the case on Aug. 17 when the Avon girls soccer team welcomed a budding non-conference rival in Brunswick to Mark Wahlberg Chevrolet Stadium.

The two teams, who met in a Division I regional semifinal on Nov. 3, 2020, used the entirety of the first half to feel out each other and try to get comfortable. A defensive tug of war continued late into the second half, too, until Blue Devils sophomore Brooke Allen stunned the Eagles by scoring with 16 seconds left. They came away with a 1-0 victory.

“I got that shot and I was just like, oh, please, let that go in. And it went in,” Allen said afterward. “It was just a team effort and we had such a team mentality coming into the game and we wanted to win this.”

Allen and her teammates considered the win a revenge game. On the same turf last fall, the Eagles scored with less than two minutes remaining in regulation to take a 1-0 win, advancing to a regional final. The teams also met during the 2020 regular season, a 3-0 Blue Devils win.

At the start of a new season, the teams appeared to be evenly matched once again. The teams jockeyed for possession all evening and used strong midfield play to fend off attacks. By the end, they combined for three shots on net, which the Blue Devils led, 2-1, thanks to Allen’s goal. Eagles goalie Ariana Vakos and Blue Devils counterpart Bella Gullatta each made one save.

“Brunswick played great. Hats off to them. They buried a goal late,” Eagles coach Attila Csiszar said. “It’s tough because we’re pressing, but it’s soccer. You look at this game and you don’t understand it sometimes. But it’s one play, it’s one counter-attack, it’s one breakaway, it’s one free kick, it’s one corner kick, and they put their chance away.”

The Eagles’ best chance to score came in the 71st minute when they were able to poke the ball away from Brunswick goalie Bella Gullatta and create a measure of chaos in front of an open net. After several desperate attempts to get a clean shot off, the Blue Devils calmed things down by retaking possession.

“I think we played a little bit nervous,” senior midfielder Meredith Coloian said. “We just had to settle down a little bit, and towards the end of the game we got in a little bit of a groove. But we just couldn’t put the ball away, and that’s something we need to work on. But it’s nothing we can’t fix.”

Opening loss aside, 2021 brings with it high expectations for the Eagles. A team that finished last season 13-4-4 and only allowed one goal over five playoff games returns 11 seniors and eight juniors, and has a wealth of varsity experience at nearly every position.

Playing in front of Vakos, a sophomore, are veteran defenders like seniors Lauren Bernath and Mara Jacarcz, and junior Natalie Santoro. The midfield includes returners like seniors Coloian and Mackenzie Muir, while senior forwards Katie Beatty and Arya Singh and junior Alexis Titas will make them formidable up front.

Csiszar hopes that this season will include a deep tournament run to match a deep roster.

“We made it to the elite eight last year and we want to do the same thing this year,” he said. “Little by little, we want to chip away. Avon soccer is solidifying great talent here and it’s nice to see.”

Avon will spend this week on the road against a pair of tough non-conference opponents. After playing St. Joseph Academy at St. Ignatius today at 8:15 p.m., the Eagles will take on Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit on Saturday at 2 p.m.

Contact this reporter at sports@westlifenews.com or 440-871-5797.

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