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By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
The Walpole and Wellesley High School varsity girls soccer teams opened up their seasons and Bay State Conference action on the turf in some scorching heat in Wellesley last Tuesday afternoon. Behind a strong second half by Walpole’s Libby Foley and the speedy Maria Toumbouras, the Rebels (1-0) returned home with a 2-0 win over MacKenzie O’Neil and the Raiders (0-1).
Both teams played lockdown defense to begin their respective seasons, as both the Raiders and Rebels clogged the middle and made it extremely difficult for either side to navigate the ball through during the first half of play. Wellesley sophomore goalkeeper MacKenzie O’Neil’s sprawling save on Walpole’s Libby Foley during stoppage time near the end of the first half allowed the game to enter the break still knotted at zeros.
“MacKenzie made some big time saves for us in the first half,” said new Wellesley head coach Cat Whitehill. “She came up big and kept us in the game, and definitely helped provide us with some momentum.”
Unfortunately for Wellesley, the momentum gained by O’Neil’s big saves towards the end of the first half did not last the entire match, as Walpole’s Kelly O’Meara drew first blood less than eight minutes into the second half thanks to a beautiful cross by junior forward Maria Toumbouras on a breakaway. O’Meara corralled the ball and fired it past O’Neil just inside the left post to give the Rebels a 1-0 lead with 32:22 left to play. Senior Emma Coakley provided the secondary assist on a pass to Toumbouras.
Following the Walpole goal, Wellesley called timeout to try and settle things down, and almost found the tying goal with a shot off the right post with 22 minutes to play.
Seven minutes after Wellesley rang the pipe with a little under 15 minutes to play, Libby Foley gave the Rebels some much-needed insurance with a goal off of an artful free kick. Toumbouras and Coakley each faked a shot on the kick before giving way to Foley, who fired a shot up high beyond the reach of O’Neil into the back left corner of the net for a 2-0 Rebel edge.
Following the Foley goal, Wellesley tried vigorously to cut into the deficit, but the Rebels completely locked off the middle of the field. The Rebels would kill the remaining minutes on the clock and hang on for the 2-0 win, with goalkeeper Tori Pacella recording a shutout in just her second-ever varsity start.
Walpole head coach Erin Kearney was impressed with the effort her team showed on Tuesday afternoon and says that she is hopeful and excited about what is to come with this group this season.
“Always great to start off the season with a win,” said Kearney. “Wellesley is a great team. They’re a solid program, so to come away with a 2-0 win and a shutout for Tori [Pacella] is awesome. We had lots of young kids playing and it makes me really excited for what is to come this season.”
Kearny had additional praise for her goalkeeper, Tori Pacella.
“Tori played great,” said Kearney. “This is her first full season as a varsity keeper and she really stepped up today. I’m excited for our offense today, defense today - all of it.”
Meanwhile, Cat Whitehill says that while it was definitely a tough way to start the season, there were several positive takeaways from Tuesday’s contest for Wellesley.
“We worked really hard together, we tried the whole game,” said Whitehill. “I thought we had actually more opportunities than they did, we just weren’t able to finish. We hit that post and some balls just didn’t bounce our way. I thought we did well at getting out wide and getting numbers in there. We have the potential to be a dangerous team. We just need to get the ball on frame and put some goals in the back of the net. I thought our defense played really well. They just got in behind us a couple times and that free kick they had was well executed; very tough one for MacKenzie to save.”
The Rebels will travel to Natick on Friday at 3:45 p.m. while Wellesley will host Braintree.
For funny and incisive sports analysis, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter at @fLAno0, or read his blog at www.flannylive.wordpress.com.