VERNON - After 68 minutes of scoreless soccer between the Badger Braves and Bristol Panthers Wednesday evening, Badger's Holly Masters stepped up to take a 22-yard free kick in the center of the field, looking to put into play that which she practiced.
The junior forward was gunning for the upper right-hand corner of the net, something she's spent time doing in practice, and that extra effort paid off, as Masters' free kick found its target and gave the Braves' a 1-0 win over the Panthers in Northeastern Athletic Conference play.
"I've been really practicing my right-corner shots, and I knew that this was a very good chance for us to get ahead," Masters said. "I'm so glad it went in."
Badger (8-0-1) coach Theresa Hartman said the Braves tried to confuse Bristol (2-4-1) going into the free kick, but there was no doubt about who would take it, as Master is the team's free-kick specialist.
"Everybody on the team had goosebumps," Hartman said. "They were even unsure of who we were going to have kick it, and we knew Holly was going to put it in. That's her expertise, and she put it in, exactly what we wanted."
Up to that point, however, the Panthers' defense frustrated Badger, swarming around the ball any time the Braves got it in the penalty area and forcing them to shoot from distance. During the first half, Bristol kept Badger from creating any good goal-scoring opportunities until right before the halftime whistle.
"We've got to keep our spacing, and I give all credit to my defense," Bristol coach John Rasmussen said. "I had one middle mid to help out just so they don't get outnumbered, but other than that, the defense and goalie did a heck of a job."
The Braves grew into the match offensively though, starting on the wings. It was especially evident on the left side, where senior winger Jennilyn Krumpe used her speed to get around defenders before bombarding the box with crosses.
Although dangerous, those crosses came to nothing in the end. Many times no Brave was there to get on the end of them, or if one did manage to be on the receiving end, a Bristol defender cleared the ball or managed to block the shot. The ones getting past the backline went wide of the mark or straight at Bristol goalkeeper Jasmine Hickey.
"Our left wing is our biggest offensive strength," Hartman said. "She's the fastest girl on the team. Her crosses are just amazing. Probably our down fall would be finishing it - she gets the ball there every time, and we just have to finish it. It only takes one goal.
"(Krumpe)'s in every single play. She might not get the assist or the goal, but she's doing everything up to it."
Masters' goal broke the Panthers, though, and Bristol couldn't muster up much of an offense after playing most of the second half in its side of the field. Badger, meanwhile, seemed re-energized by the goal and saw out the final 14 minutes.
"Right when we made that goal, there was a spark that came into all of our eyes," Krumpe said. "We saw that we needed to step it up and we needed to keep that one-goal (lead), and that motivated all of the girls and taking us all the way to the win."
Two years removed from a district final appearance, Badger is two matches away from reaching last season's undefeated start, which lasted 11 matches. Although that's nice, Krumpe said the team is looking more to improving its tournament form from last season, when the Braves lost their first match.
"This year, we have great girls that came up," Krumpe said. "I think we have a really solid team, and I hope that we can make it farther."