The Fort Mill and Nation Ford girls soccer teams both took part in the third annual BB&T Fort Mill Invitational Tournament last weekend, an 18-team competition Fort Mill hopes will evolve into one of the premier girls soccer showcases in the southeast.
"This year, from top to bottom, this was a very high quality tournament," Jackets Head Coach Vic Johnson said about the three-day event, held at Manchester Meadows in Rock Hill. "There were quite a few college coaches here. For overall tournament competition, I think it was top notch."
The Nation Ford team went 2-1 over the weekend to finish in third place, defeating Olympic 1-0, dropping a match to Forsyth Country Day 3-0, then shutting out Grace Academy in the third place match, 2-0.
"We did pretty well. Our defense played well, but we have to work on our passes, not giving the ball away, Head Coach Ben Jacklin said.
After managing only one goal in the first two games, the Falcons knocked in two on the final day, thanks in part to the return of senior attacker Katie Kozlowski, who was absent from the first two matches because she was playing in the North-South Senior All-Star basketball game in Myrtle Beach Saturday.
"She's a huge threat, and solid against defenders," Jacklin said.
Kozlowski had one goal in the third place match, the other coming from senior Anjali Patel.
"It was really good to play different teams," Jacklin said about the tournament field, which included teams from three states. "Every single team played good soccer."
Fort Mill capped off a somewhat frustrating tournament appearance with a win over 12th-ranked Lexington, 1-0, in the match that decided fifth place.
The Jackets had dropped back-to-back 1-0 matches earlier in the weekend to Lake Norman and First Presbyterian Day (Georgia), giving up the lone goal in each match during the final four minutes of play.
"I thought we played great this weekend, against all three teams," Johnson said. "We played great against Lake Norman and the coaches from First Presbyterian said we had one of the best defenses they had ever played against."
Although the Jackets' record dropped to 4-3, Johnson said the team would take a lot of positives out of the tournament.
"We've started out the season against seven great opponents. The great thing is we know we can play at a high level and compete with top teams," he said.
Junior forward Becca Tooley scored the winning goal against Lexington Sunday, and was actually playing midfield in that match.
"I had room to make a run and come at them," Tooley said about the goal. "I hit the shot well, into the far corner. This win was good - we all needed it. We knew we had been playing well but we needed a win to lift our spirits."
Team captain Taylor Parker said she agreed that the win against Lexington came at a much needed point in the season for the Jackets.
"It was really important since we lost in the last four minutes of our last three games. This was a big win for us, we really wanted it," Parker said.
She said the tough early season competition would have a positive impact on the team over the course of the season, even if it takes a lot out of them now.
"I think good teams bring out the best in us, show us what we need to work on and where we need to improve," Parker said. "I think we really stepped up as a team."
Johnson said after the group enjoys a well-deserved day off, they will be back to work and preparing for the region schedule, which kicks off this week with matches against Gaffney and Northwestern.
"We're only going to get better," Johnson said about his team, now ranked eighth in the state.
"We have one of the best defenses in the state and a strong midfield. We just need to work on our attack- not just our attackers but also the midfielders moving up. We'll work on our attacking third."