August 15th, 2011
Tigers, Gators Settle For Season-Opening Tie
St. Xavier gets production from Belza, Henley in opener
A pair of perennial powers hooked up to kick off the 2011 high school soccer season on Monday night, as Greenwood High School made its first trip to St. Xavier since 2005 for a regular season matchup with the Tigers.
And after four straight wins for St. X over the Gators, including a 4-1 victory in 2009 in the state championship game, the two teams settled for a 1-1 tie in front of a spirited crowd in both team's season opener.
After a scoreless first half, Greenwood (0-0-1) struck first after junior Nedin Zukanovic delivered a pinpoint pass to a sprinting Tyler Daniels, who slipped behind the St. X defense and converted a one-on-one breakaway goal to put the Gators ahead 1-0 at the 32:28 mark in the second half.
Taken aback by the abrupt deficit, St. Xavier (0-0-1) came alive offensively and notched the score less than eight minutes later. Following a long throw-in, Tigers senior all-stater Neil Henley drove hard at the net, drew a pack of Gator defenders and seemed poised to tie the game on his own. Unselfishly, however, Henley hit the brakes and left the ball for an assertive Danny Belza, who knocked in the equalizer just past the Greenwood goalkeeper with 24:45 to go in the game.
The Tigers got off an array of point-blank attempts during the closing minutes that would have given St. X a season-opening win, but it was not to be. Despite the draw, St. Xavier Head Coach Andy Schulten, who was won eight state championships during his time at the helm of the program, took away several positives from the game.
"I liked the way that we finished the game. During the final 20-25 minutes, we put our nervousness and anxiety on the back porch and we let our determination and let our heart and let our character kind of take over, and try to establish a will to win," said Schulten. "I saw the guys step it up when they really needed to step up, which is exactly what I want them to do."
"For the first 40 to 45 minutes of the game, I thought (Greenwood) played harder than we did," Schulten continued. "I thought we were the better team in terms of skill, in terms of tactics, but they played farther above their level than we played above ours. And that put them on top, and our guys were kind of stunned by that."
The aforementioned Henley, who will serve as the St. X leader this season, was crowded during the majority of the game's 80 minutes on Monday - an occurrence that Schulten says the senior striker will have to get used to.
"He's going to draw so much attention because he's not a secret this year. A lot of people know about him and Greenwood knew about him," said Schulten. "(Henley) could have had two more assists just like that, except that the box was so crowded that our guy couldn't get the shot off. He's going to have accustomed to that. He's a smart kid and I think that he will."
"Nobody's going to take this tie harder than Neil will, because he knows the team is depending on him this year."
While disecting his team's first true body of work, which follows a relatively brief training camp and preseason practicing, Schulten was also very pleased with some of the younger role players who came off the bench during the Greenwood contest.
"I was very impressed with the underclassman reserves that I threw out there," said Schulten. "They were a big question mark coming in (to the game). There were two in particular that I thought were outstanding: David Means stepped on and gave us some really, really hard minutes at the defensive midfielder and Eric Muth gave us some hard minutes up top. You usually look to the seniors to set the pace, but these guys stepped up the intensity while they were out there and everybody responded in the second half."
"I take that away from tonight and feel confident in our future."
St. X will now have a week off before its next game, which will take place on Aug. 22 against South Oldham in the Land Rover Cup at Ballard High School.
For a full photo gallery from Monday's game, visit: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.234499276592640.56359.134144593294776&type=1