CLEVELAND, Tenn.—McMinn County junior Haley Ward has a knack for hitting big shots—especially against Cleveland.
During basketball season, her late-game 3-pointer broke a tie against the Lady Raiders and propelled McMinn to a region semifinal victory. Thursday night, in soccer, her late goal gave the Lady Cherokees a 1-0 victory in their District 5-AAA opener.
That was coach David McDonald's first win over Cleveland as girls' coach.
Ward's goal in the 73rd minute came off a feed from Arielle Hansford and was the junior's first-ever goal against Cleveland.
"This is just a big step up for us," Ward said. "We feel like if we can beat a team like Cleveland, we can play with and beat anybody.
"Arielle gave me a pass and I got the opportunity to go one-on-one with the goalkeeper, and I made the shot."
McMinn is 3-4 with losses to strong teams: Baylor, Chattanooga Christian, Christian Academy of Knoxville and Maryville.
"We always feel like this is a game that could go either way," McDonald said. "We'll take this victory, though; we've taken some beatings this year, but these girls have never quit and they've kept fighting."
The Lady Cherokees controlled the first 15 minutes of play, only to watch the Lady Raiders dominate the rest of the first half. McMinn goalkeeper Nikki Hayes, who had eight saves, made a diving stop of a Hannah Ellis shot late in the half.
Both teams had a number of futile opportunities in the second half. Cleveland (1-4-1) had two dangerous chances in the final minute but missed on both crosses.
"The potential is there for this team to be good," Cleveland coach Andy Byrd said. "I think the girls have to recognize they can be good and chip away at that goal."