BATAVIA – Batavia junior forward Grace Salyers always knows where to be and what to do on the soccer field, even though she’s sometimes a little fuzzy on the details.
Salyers scored the game-tying goal on a perfectly placed header late in the first half and the host Bulldogs continued their hot start to the season with a 1-1 draw with Neuqua Valley on Saturday.
The goal was set up by Indiana State-bound senior forward Anna Holcombe, who sent a corner kick over the head of Neuqua goalkeeper Tara Tesmond. Salyers leaped and redirected the ball into the far corner of the net with 7:08 left in the first half.
“It was a corner kick and I know where Anna hits it because she tries to hit that same spot that we practice in practices,” Salyers said. “So I saw the ball and kind of just jumped.
“Most of the time when I head the ball, I know where it’s going, but I don’t even remember making contact with it.”
Salyers,who said she probably had her eyes closed when she headed it, remembered exactly what led up to the goal.
“I knew I had open space,” Salyers said. “I had no target following me and I just went up and I saw the goalkeeper was sitting front post before the corner was taken, so I flicked it back post.”
Most players keep their eyes open when they head the ball so they can see where to aim it, but Batavia coach Mark Gianfrancesco wasn’t arguing with the result.
“If that’s the case, I’d rather have her close her eyes every time,” Gianfrancesco said. “She was in the right spot.”
The Bulldogs (6-1-2) are in a good spot. They have surrendered only seven goals, four of which came in their lone loss of the season, to Waubonsie Valley.
Batavia’s impressive resume includes a 1-1 tie with 2018 state semifinalist Naperville North and now the draw with Neuqua, which also is a traditional power.
The Wildcats (2-2-3) took a 1-0 lead at the 17:47 mark when a cross from Alison Dovalovsky was deflected backward by a defender toward the back post, where Paige Biziorek scored on a short shot.
But the Wildcats didn’t come close to finding the back of the net again. Batavia goalkeeper Hailey Flannagan had to make only one save in the first half and Aubrey Hahn added four routine stops in the second half.
“Neuqua is always a strong team,” Gianfrancesco said. “It’s a nice test just to see where we are.
“I thought we responded well after they scored because you never know how a team is going to respond. Are they going to go in the tank? We haven’t been scored on too much this year, so I thought the response was excellent.”
The Bulldogs absorbed a wave of Neuqua attacks early in the second half and then switched formations to focus more on defense. Wisconsin-La Crosse recruit Jenna Nichols and Carthage-bound Zaira Solis anchored the back line.
“Reading what they did in the first half with all the long balls they played, I thought we knew where to be on the field because we knew where the ball was going to go,” Nichols said. “So that helps, to know beforehand.
“We started with three in the back and we realized that we might play better together if we switched to four. So second half, maybe 10 minutes in we switched to four in the back and I felt like that kept our composure.”
Salyers is one of Batavia’s top offensive threats but deflects credit for the strong start.
“I give all the credit to my team,” Salyers said. “I think we all worked super hard this whole game.
“No one was slacking. Everyone was just putting their full effort the whole time. Everyone deserves credit for that.”