With the uncertainty of the 2020 fall sports season, Sweetwater coach Mallory Gruenenfelder wanted to check Senior Night off the list early on. The Wildcats did just that, settling into the game as it progressed, but losing 1-0 to the Knoxville Ambassadors on Sept. 8.

“At the beginning of the season things were kind of up in the air,” Gruenenfelder said. “I know a lot of seniors in the spring had their senior seasons taken from them, so I really wanted to get it done early so that we could celebrate the seniors who have put in four years of work.”

Before the game, the Wildcats recognized their six seniors: Anna Cofer, Iris Guzman, Saria Keller, Lexie Taylor and Kylee Taylor.

“All of our seniors play, so it is really important for me to honor them,” Gruenenfelder said.

The Ambassadors’ Nicole Brown netted the lone goal in the 44th minute, slotting the ball past Sweetwater’s Kylee Hicks. Hicks finished the night tallying 11 saves.

Knoxville loomed over Sweetwater’s final third throughout early spells.

The Ambassadors, who represent Knoxville Homeschool Athletics, put a shot past Hicks and then past the right of the goal in the opening minute.

Knoxville compiled seven shots in the first 20 minutes, finishing with 20 total shots, 11 on target.

The Wildcats defense weathered Knoxville’s push through the first half and breached only in the early moments of the second.

The Ambassadors looked to play the ball out to the wings with threats from Brown and Caroline Boles.

However, Sweetwater’s defense, anchored by four seniors, shepherded Knoxville to the corner flags, limiting chances to come inside and strong shot angles.

“So far in our game that has been a really common denominator is we’ve been playing a lot of teams that play those diagonal balls to the corner flags,” Gruenenfelder said. “Defensively, we have strong centerback with Iris Guzman and she does a fantastic job of playing the ball out to the sides and kind of protects the center of the field. We’ve been working all season on pushing out wide and just giving us time to get some support offensively.”

Sweetwater, on the attacking side, continued to struggle with generating chances of its own. The Wildcats, who build their attacking starting from the back with Brown, sprayed the ball to the outside via Corona and Keller. Moving the ball past there was not as simple for the Wildcats though.

“We build a lot from the back,” Gruenenfelder said. “We are pretty strong defensively and typically all of our playmakers tend to stay in the back, so we kind of just build it from there.”

Sweetwater, playing with a diamond midfield, held the ball up better as the game progressed, but offered few balls forward to their strikers, Oxamara Alonso and Cofer.

“We really play that center diamond, it is game dependent,” Gruenenfelder said. “In a game like this when we are able to bridge that gap between the defense and the midfield I like to use that diamond to put some pressure on the ball.”

The Wildcats’ better chances came from set pieces. In the 24th minute, a corner played to the near post generated their best opportunity so far, but Jenna Gibson could not get the ball out from under her feet. Gibson looked to spring a good run in the 57th minute, but the move was called back for offsides.

Sweetwater’s best look came in the latter point of the second half. A Wildcat cross fizzed across the face of the goal, however, no one was able to crash on the ball as Knoxville’s keeper, Isis Cobb, was wrong footed.

In the 64th minute, Cobb bobbled a shot, but the Ambassadors cycled the ball out before a true Sweetwater opportunity was found.

At the 21st minute mark, Jaden Jenkins found herself behind Knoxville’s line, but could not get a shot past a rush from Cobb.

“We have been struggling to get the ball in the net,” Gruenenfelder said. “We’ve moved the ball a whole lot better, playing the ball into feet. The first couple of games we’ve had some loose touches and careless passes up top, but I think once we can connect some more things and get the ball in the back of the net we will be stronger.”

Sweetwater finished with three shots, one on target. The Wildcats tallied three corners. The Wildcats are set for a District 4-A contest with Greenback on Thursday, Sept. 10. Kickoff is at 6:30 p.m.

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