JACKSONVILLE, Ala. – Two early goals from sophomore Kelly O’Connor and a defensive effort that held the opposition to three shots were the keys Friday as Arkansas beat Jacksonville St., 4-0, at the Adidas Gamecock Classic. The two-goal performance is the first of O’Connor’s career and the shutout is the second of the season for Razorback goalkeeper Britni Williams.
“It’s always nice to win with a shutout,” head coach Gordon Henderson said. “For long periods of the game, we had all 11 of their players within 40 yards of their goal so space became a premium and I was pleased with the ball movement we had. It would have been easy for us to start shooting from anywhere in that kind of game, but that’s not what we’re trying to achieve. I thought we scored four very good goals that broke down the defense in a tight space.”
The Razorbacks (3-1)wasted little time jumping out to the lead with a goal by O’Connor at the 5:08 mark. Sophie Wentz split the Gamecock backline with a pass that found O’Connor who had broken into the box. Jacksonville St. keeper Kate Kelly came off her line to challenge the ball, but O’Connor got to the ball first and knocked the shot past the opposing keeper.
In the 28th minute, off a pass from the left side of the backline, freshman Kailey Anders continued up the sideline before spotting O’Connor streaking into the box. After gaining control of the ball, O’Connor found the back of the net from eight yards out for her third goal of the season and a 2-0 lead for Arkansas. It was Anders’ first-career assist and point.
“I’m really excited because they were simple finishes,” O’Connor said. “I did what the coaches have been asking me to do: keep it low and place it. It’s nice to get it done early. It changes the game because we’re not chasing the game. We were ahead so we could play calm and rest some players, so that’s good, too.”
With just over a minute before halftime, Jacksonville St. (0-3-1)posted its only shot of the first half. After a throw in, the Gamecocks’ Chelea Pelletier got behind the Arkansas backline, but Williams stepped up to make the one-on-one stop for her only save of the half. She finished the game with two for her eighth career shutout.
“It was a fun night because we got the outcome we wanted,” senior defender Megan Fawley said. “It’s a pretty new backline, but we’re starting to come together. We’re a team that takes pride in how many goals we have against us, so I think we’re getting where we want to be.”
The Razorbacks increased their lead to 3-0 in the second half on a header by Kathleen Paulsen. Rachel Smith knocked a long pass into the box and Paulsen elevated to flick the ball toward the net. The ball hit the inside of the post and into the goal at the 62:45 mark.
Williams denied another scoring chance for Jacksonville St. when Amber DeLaney made a run with the ball after pushing it past the Arkansas backline. The touch was too far ahead and allowed Williams to come out and make the save right off DeLaney’s foot at the 13:11 mark.
“One of the things we’ve been stressing, and one of the things that has become evident in the first few games, is the importance of playing a 90-minute game,” Henderson said. “I felt we did a better job in this game of keeping our foot to the pedal, being mentally sound at the back and making some excellent plays with our backline.
“I thought the whole backline played fantastic from the goalkeeper out to the back four, so from that standpoint, it’s nice to have a comfortable win, but it’s also nice to see the effort for 90 minutes from our players.”
Arkansas iced the game with a 20-yard strike from Beth McVean in the 89th minute. The high shot went past the outstretched arms of Kelly for the final tally of the game. This is the second consecutive games the Razorbacks have scored four goals.
Arkansas will return to JSU Soccer Field for its second game of the Adidas Gamecock Classic on Sunday for a 1 p.m. contest with Samford. It will be the first meeting between the two teams. Visit ArkansasRazorbacks.com for continued coverage of Arkansas soccer.