M.E. Craven had just one practice with the Lambert girls soccer team before she had to take one of the more important kicks of the Lady Longhorns’ season.
Friday night’s game between Lambert and West Forsyth, two teams fighting for position behind South Forsyth and Milton in Region 5-7A, came down to a penalty shootout after scoreless regular and extra time periods. It was Craven’s first game back with the Lady Longhorns after helping take the basketball team to the state quarterfinals.
“It was pretty stressful, coming back my first game and having to take the final (penalty),” she said.
The junior’s nerves scarcely showed. She placed her shot high and to the right, West Forsyth goalkeeper A.J. Needham dove low and to the left, and Lambert took the win by a 5-3 margin in penalties.
“I am comfortable with her in any spot at any time,” Lady Longhorns head coach Scott Luthart said of Craven. “There’s not another kid that’s as unflappable as that kid.”
Soccer is Craven’s primary sport – the junior is committed to play at Auburn – but her profile in soccer differs considerably from that in basketball. On the hardwood, Craven’s best tool is her ability to consistently get to the basket on drives in half-court or full-court situations; in soccer, she’s a lockdown defender, using her long limbs to cover expansive territory in her teams’ own half and providing skillful clearances with her head or feet.
On Friday, she helped mark Wolverines sophomore Kylie Gazza, a Samford commit and one of the top offensive threats in the region. Craven’s presence was especially helpful for Lambert given the absence of center back Phoebe Pyden, who tore her ACL against South earlier in the week.
Craven’s impact goes well beyond defense, though. She picks her spots to make moves into the opposing half and join the Lady Longhorns’ offensive push, and Craven’s 6-foot frame makes her a serious challenge for opposing teams to defend on corner kicks.
And she’s reliable enough on penalty kicks to make her fifth in Lambert’s order, strategically placed to score the clinching goal.
The one that Craven notched on Friday night was especially important, as it kept the Lady Longhorns (4-2-0) in the top half of the region standings, behind South and Milton. West fell to 3-4-0 with the loss.
“We could not afford to fall into a 1-2 hole after losing to South on Tuesday,” Luthart said.
Dekshenieks’ save helps Longhorns prevail in penalties
When Avery Dekshenieks saved the penultimate shot of the penalty kick shootout between the Lambert and West Forsyth boys on Friday, the senior’s exuberant celebration had some recent history behind it.
The Wolverines scored the opening goal less than five minutes into the game on Friday off Carlos Reyes’ free kick. The goal was in part due to poor planning and miscommunication on the Longhorns’ part: Lambert was expecting Reyes to deliver a cross, but he instead slipped a curling shot around the wall. Dekshenieks didn’t react quickly enough to stop the ball from bouncing into the lower left corner.
The Longhorns equalized later on in the first half with Pablo Samur’s finish off a pristine feed from Logan Racine, but despite getting the majority of the offensive push throughout the game, they couldn’t pull ahead. Dekshenieks, meanwhile, was still kicking himself for conceding early.
He got redemption in the penalty kick shootout, though, as he dove to his left to stop Sam Swanger’s shot.
“It fired me up,” Dekshenieks said. “(It was) some nice revenge, almost.”
Racine coolly slotted the ensuing Lambert kick in give the Lambert (3-3-0) the win. West dropped to 1-6-0.