Cougars best Knights in IIAAG  quarterfinal matchup

BATTLE: St. John's School's Tyanna Jacot, right, and Academy of Our Lady of Guam's Hannah Charfauros battle for the ball during an IIAAG high school girls soccer quarterfinal match at the University of Guam in Mangilao on Friday, May 5, 2023. The Academy Cougars won the match 3-1. Frank San Nicolas/The Guam Daily Post

The Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam high school girls soccer playoffs got underway at the University of Guam football field on Friday as the Academy of Our Lady of Guam Cougars took on the St. John's School Knights in a battle to see who would move on to take on the top-seeded Guam High School Panthers on Monday. Academy won 3-1.

The Cougars and Knights played against each other a few days ago with the Cougars coming away with a convincing 5-0 win.

Academy came out hoping to impose themselves on the Knights as they worked the ball through midfield with good patience. An inexperienced team could easily make the mistake of looking past the St. John's squad after their most recent result against each other, but it was clear Academy wasn't under that impression.

St. John's was very well organized defensively, making it difficult for the Cougars to use their passing game to create clear goal scoring chances early on.

Once they won possession, the Knights looked to exploit the space behind the Academy defense in hopes of releasing their star player, Sarah Benavente. Benavente was a dangerous player just about every time she got on the ball, giving the Cougar defenders all they could handle.

Academy had a dangerous player of their own in sophomore Hinengi San Nicolas. San Nicolas, although diminutive in stature, is a terror with the ball. She has the ability to beat multiple defenders off the dribble. Her ability to shoot with both feet makes her attack that much more difficult to shut down.

As the two teams looked to gain the advantage, it was the Cougars who would find pay dirt first.

With the attention on the dangerous San Nicolas, Academy midfielder Maria-Jean Paulino found some space and finished to put Academy up 1-0 in the 12th minute.

Academy continued to attack as they looked for their second goal in hopes of having a repeat of their previous match against St. John's, but the Knights weren’t going down without a fight.

In the 25th minute, Benavente was able to get on the ball for the Knights in a dangerous area and created enough space to get her shot off, hitting a banger to tie the score 1-1.

Both teams buckled down defensively and the game headed into halftime with the score knotted.

Exciting second half

The second half was just as exciting as the first, with both teams looking to score a second point in hopes of securing a semifinal playoff date with Guam High.

The Knights' defense held strong as the Academy attack probed and prodded, with goalkeeper Ha’ani Byerly making her presence felt, stomping out any danger.

With the score still tied up through the first 20 minutes of the half, the Knights knew they had a chance to win and pushed forward in search of the winner. After earning a corner kick, Benavente served in a great ball that landed right on top of the 6-yard box, falling right in front of a Knights player.

The initial shot was blocked by the Academy goalkeeper before a second attempt was blocked and cleared by the Cougar defense.

Not content with just clearing the danger, Academy used their passing to start a counterattack. With the St. John's team pressed up for the corner kick, there were acres of space behind their backline to attack.

Cue San Nicolas.

A great ball from Academy's left midfielder found San Nicolas. A great turn with the outside of her right foot had San Nicolas racing down the sideline with a defender in tow. As a covering defender came across to pressure her, San Nicolas used great footwork to bypass the onrushing defender, putting her in on goal.

Byerly came out to close the shooting angle, but San Nicolas did well to finish neatly, giving the Cougars the goal they needed to break the deadlock.

St. John's wasn't discouraged and immediately looked to find the tying goal, pushing forward with urgency.

But San Nicolas wasn’t done just yet as Academy was able to use a turnover to unleash the talented sophomore on another attack. The St. John's defense had done a great job all night of trying to contain the Academy attacking threat but there was not much they could do to stop her on this one.

San Nicolas used more great footwork to get herself free before scoring her second goal of the match, making the score 3-1.

Benavente continued to be a danger, creating some more opportunities for the Knights but it just wasn’t meant to be and the Cougars held on to the game finishing 3-1.

What's next

It will be a quick turnaround for the Cougars as they will play Guam High on Monday. Two-goal scorer San Nicolas was happy with her team’s performance but noted that the job is not done yet.

“I’m happy we got the win, but we didn’t start off the way we wanted. We came out a bit slow and we can’t do that against Guam High come Monday,” she said.

She knows it will be a tough game but she believes her team has what it takes to get the result against a good Guam High squad.

“We have to continue to work hard for each other on the field and trust in our abilities and what we’ve been working on all season. As long as we give our all and play as a team, I believe if we want it, we can go get it,” she said.

The semifinal match will be held at Guam High with a 4:30 p.m. kickoff.