Getting back on track after a leg injury cost her her junior season, Ephrata senior striker Annie Slovak made participating in track & field a part of her program last spring.
Slovak got with the program Thursday night as the host Mountaineers took the first set in what may be a marathon with defending Section Two champion Manheim Central, 2-0.
The Mounts (2-0 league, 3-1-1 overall) scored twice in the first 14 minutes, then defended like a bear guarding her cubs, dealing the Barons (1-1, 5-1) their first loss of the season.
“That really helped out,” Slovak said of her turn as a sprinter.
“This is the fastest I’ve ever been since I’ve been playing soccer. Everyone has noticed it.
“I’m more confident now,” the Liberty University recruit shared. “Being able to kick the ball in front of me and run to it.”
As the game ticked into its tenth minute, she ran down the right sideline before sending a pass to freshman Jorja Welsh, camped on the far side of the box.
“I didn’t even expect that to get to her” Slovak said. “It was an accidental toe poke.”
Welsh poked it back into the right corner of the goal and the Mounts had the early advantage.
Four minutes later it was Welsh’s turn to pass to Slovak, up the left sideline.
Barons’ back Tori Fahnestock broke up the play, but in doing so kicked the ball over the endline, giving the Mounts their second of three first-half corner kicks.
Reagan McCarty’s service dropped into the box, where a scrum ensued. Slovak gained possession and loaded up a shot.
“I took my first shot, it hit someone and came back out to me,” she said. “There was a tiny little opening, a narrow lane with the keeper, a defender in front of her and a defender here (close by).
“I slipped it right in between them, a hard and fast shot on the ground,” she continued.
Down two scores, the Barons came to life as Isabella Wendler took a hard, crossing strike, punched away by keeper Jocelyn Umana.
It was the first time Umana was tested. It would not be the last as Wendler and McKenna Copley — with 12 goals between them in the early going — gave the Mounts defense several heart-in-the-throat moments.
“I knew she’s going to have good shots,” Umana said of Wendler.
“Our defense did a fantastic job. She always had pressure on her back side. It was never an easy turn for her.”
Still Wendler fashioned five shots on goal, but the save of the night came on a 40-yard free kick from Fahnestock, with 20 minutes to play.
The ball, well struck, sailed goalward high and hard. Umana had to decide, try to catch it? Punch it away?
“I knew it was going to be a good ball,” Umana said. “It was just going higher than I thought.
“I wasn’t sure if my hands were going to be solid behind the ball, so I decided to punch it. It was the best feeling, watching it go over the crossbar.”