Tess Belnap hat trick propels Arlington to win
ARLINGTON — Soccer, at its core, is a game of will.
It's a matter of who wants the ball more and who's willing to put in the effort to take over.
Arlington junior Tess Belnap took that fact into the palm of her hands against West Rutland, or in Tuesday night's case, her head and foot, scoring all three Arlington goals as the Eagles won 3-0.
"West Rutland had a good, solid defense, so you don't get a lot of chances. You need to capitalize when you get them," Belnap said. "Those quick switches really helped. They can't recover as fast. That was the main mentality, capitalizing on opportunities."
During the postgame huddle, Eagles coach Aaron Wood awards a player of the game for his squad. His choice Tuesday night was quite clear.
"She's a physical beast against everyone else on the field. It's obvious," Wood said. "It's nice when you have a player that is that talented, but also wants it that bad. That doesn't always happen. It was awesome to watch her play tonight."
Belnap's first two goals came in the first half and were brought upon by her speed and aggressiveness around the ball. On both plays, she got the ball in the attacking zone and Golden Horde defenders couldn't keep up with her in a foot race. She perfectly hit both balls on her foot in the box and gave the Eagles an advantage.
Her final goal came early in the second half, when defender Lilah Ward took a free kick and placed it perfectly into the box to a cutting Belnap. West Rutland keeper Serena Coombs almost got her hands on the ball as it trickled around the goal, but Belnap got her head on it and put it into the net.
"She runs by four or five people and she's the one that wants it and heads it out of the goalkeeper's hands almost and heads it into the back of the net," Wood said. "It was a great hustle goal."
"When [Lilah] lands the ball right on the six, that's really ideal," said Belnap of the free kick by Ward. "She's had consistently good kicks all season, so it's good that we can depend on her to get it in the box."
While the score wouldn't make the game appear to be a competitive match, that was far from the case. Especially in the first half, the Golden Horde did a great job maintaining possession and putting pressure on the Arlington backs and goalkeeper Shaana Staab. Defensively, West Rutland was strong too, not allowing many sustained runs, besides the two Belnap goals.
Arlington held just a one-shot advantage over the Golden Horde, as West Rutland did a great job matching the Eagles in stride.
Staab made eight saves, while Coombs made seven of her own.
In many of its games, Arlington hasn't been challenged much defensively by the opposing attack, so a lot of credit has to go to the Golden Horde for their attack.
Wood was happy the Eagles kept West Rutland off the board, but knows improvement is needed on that end.
"We made some mental mistakes back there that we need to clean up." Wood said. "It was bend, but not break tonight. We have some injury issues right now, so we're a little thin. They took it to us in the beginning. That first goal by Tess kind of swayed the momentum."
The Eagles improve to 9-1-1 with the win Tuesday.
After losing to Proctor last week to snap its 26-game unbeaten streak, Arlington has responded well since with a pair of wins to get back on track.
With three games to play in the regular season, the Eagles are focused on setting themselves up well for the playoffs.
"The loss definitely made us regroup. We had to work harder at practice," Belnap said. "Gearing up for the playoffs and the end of the regular season, we're ready to work hard and we'll see where that gets us."
Arlington is back in action Monday against MSJ on the road.
Adam Aucoin can be reached at email@example.com and followed at @AAucoin_Banner on Twitter.
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