Wildcats and Panthers battle back and forth in exciting H-DNL showdown

Ray Hamill/HumboldtSports.com – Gabriella Riley in action for the Ferndale Wildcats at St. Bernard’s last week. The Cats are now 1-1 after beating St. Bernard’s and falling to McKinleyville.

A new-look McKinleyville girls soccer team is off to an impressive start this season, with victories in their opening two games.

On Monday they had to battle back twice on the way to securing a 3-2 victory over visiting Ferndale.

What’s notable about this year’s Panthers team is not that they’ve won their opening two games, but that they have done so with a lot of new faces playing soccer for the first time in years.

“A lot of our players haven’t played soccer since the fifth grade,” head coach Adam Canepa said. “They usually play volleyball and are just coming out to see what it’s all about, and they’ve been learning quickly.”

It’s been a trend in many H-DNL sports this spring to see athletes trying their hand at new sports, as many of them just want to play something.

And with volleyball and basketball on hold right now, soccer is a perfect solution for the Mack athletes.

They’ve also shown some fight.

On Monday, playing against a good Ferndale team that won at St. Bernard’s last week, the Panthers rallied from deficits of 0-1 and 1-2, before sealing the win on an Ashley Alves goal late in the game.

“Even though they were down, my players never seemed down,” Canepa said. “They believed in themselves, which is great.”

Mackenzie Bray has been key to the quick development of the newcomers.

The four-year varsity player was involved in two second-half goals, tying the game at 2-2 and assisting on Alves’ late winner.

The Cats took the lead just four minutes in when Carly Carmesin scored off a Hallie Short corner kick, but the Panthers responded 20 minutes in when sophomore Thea Trout slipped the ball past the keeper on a through ball.

It’s was Trout’s fourth goal of the season.

“She’s been doing great,” Canepa said. “She’s a super hard worker.”

Regan Russ restored the Ferndale advantage on the half hour mark, scoring off an Alyssa Watkins assist.

“I was real impressed with our girls,” Ferndale head coach Beth Anderson said. “Again, with so short of a preseason, they are competing together well. Our passing game looked great.”’

Carmesin and Malela Fulton each played well on the wings for the Cats (1-1), while goalie Bella Stephens continued her impressive start to the new season with eight saves.

At the back, fullbacks Kyla Albee and Clara Christiansen each were key.

“They both played well and they helped keep the match close,” Anderson said of the duo, adding that “Our girls played hard, they played tough. We just need to work on some fundamentals.”

For McKinleyville, Bray scored for the second straight game.

“She’s been playing well for us since she was a freshman,” Canepa said of the senior standout. “She’s a really good athlete. She’s fast and strong.”

Another senior, Olivia Rink, has “really stepped up” the level of her play this season, according to the coach.

Voted the team’s most improved player as a sophomore, Rink then started every game as a junior and now looks poised to close out her high school career with her best season yet.

The central defender is one of three team captains, along with junior Kathryn Tinney and sophomore Soffia Reyes.

“I like their effort, always,” Canepa said of his squad. “I like their attitude on the field. They seem to be having fun, and I like how fast they’re learning.”

The Ferndale game was a good test of character for the Panthers.

“Hat’s off to Ferndale, they played really hard and they didn’t stop playing till the end,” Canepa said. “We had a really good effort and did the job. If we play with more confidence and less mistakes we can compete with anybody.”

Next up, McKinleyville plays at Fortuna on Wednesday evening, and Ferndale plays at South Fork on Friday.

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