FAIRMONT - Katie Nicoson played a bit warily during the initial minutes of Thursday's season-opening soccer match at Kot Soccer Complex in Fairmont.
But it didn't take too long for Nicoson - who twisted her ankle during Saturday's scrimmage - to shift her passing game into high gear.
Nicoson and teammate Sierra Schultz worked in perfect unison to produce a pair of goals that bridged intermission before Schultz assisted Hayley Jones' second-half goal to pilot the Fairmont Area Cardinals to a 3-1 non-league triumph over the Austin Packers.
ACCELERATING — Fairmont Area’s Natalie Shimon (4) accelerates past Austin’s Breanna Ritter (15) during season-opening soccer action Thursday at Kot Soccer Complex in Fairmont. The Cardinals’ Ashten Atzenhoefer (6) and the Packers’ Madeline Anderson (16) watch the action. Photo by Leanna Becker
"We definitely saw the increased scoring punch today," Cardinal mentor Matt Nielsen said in reference to Schultz's first-ever three-point performance at the varsity level. "Katie Nicoson proved to be everything we thought she would be, and did a really nice job of passing the ball today."
Trailing 1-0 on the heels of Nicole Lipari's chip-in goal off teammate Victoria Grev's endline crossing pass with 15:38 left in the first half, Nicoson found a seam along the left wing and drove the distance before threading a precision crossing pass to a breaking Schultz along the right wing. Schultz drilled a liner into the left corner of the net for the key equalizer with only 4:17 remaining before halftime.
"I really didn't know if I could squeeze my pass through that group of defenders, but somehow managed to get the ball to her (Schultz) and she put it in," said Nicoson.
Schultz and Nicoson worked their magic along the left edge during the early stages of the second half to stake Fairmont Area to a lead it would not relinquish.
Nicoson scrambled to gain possession of the ball following a skirmish at the Cardinals' defensive end, pushed through a sliver of space and spotted the fleet-footed Schultz on the move. Schultz sped by the Packer midfielders before hammering a shot off the post and into the net off a left-wing rush for a 2-1 lead at the 35:36 juncture.
A little more than 20 minutes later, Schultz transformed from scorer to passer by leading a hustling Hayley Jones upfield. Jones weaved through traffic on her rush before lining home a left-wing blast for a 3-1 edge with 14:20 remaining in regulation.
Fairmont Area goalkeeper Alexis Christianson netted the victory by recording seven saves, including four during the opening 40-minute half.
"I thought Alex managed the net well today, while Brooklyn Leichtnam gave us a physical presence in the midfield. In fact, I thought our entire defense played solidly today," said Nielsen.
Leichtnam nearly joined the Cardinals' scoring column during second-half action, just lofting a rising liner over the crossbar just two minutes after intermission. Leichtnam also cut loose a sizzler that Austin freshman netminder Chloe Summerfield used every inch of her height to catch at the 29-minute juncture.
Summerfield finished the game with seven saves.
Fairmont Area (1-0) plays host to Mankato East at 7 p.m. Tuesday night at Kot Soccer Complex.
Austin (0-1) travels to Worthington on Saturday.
A - Nicole Lipari (Victoria Grev), 15:38.
F - Sierra Schultz (Katie Nicoson), 4:17.
F - Schultz (Nicoson), 35:36.
F - Hayley Jones (Schultz), 14:20.
Saves: Alexis Christianson (FA) 4-3-7; Chloe Summerfield (A) 3-4-7.
Shots on goal: Fairmont Area 4-6-10; Austin 5-3-8.
Sydney Leichtnam scored the game's only goal to propel Fairmont Area to a 1-0 victory over Austin during junior varsity action Thursday in Fairmont.
Goalkeeper Cassidy Krusemark made three saves to net the win for the Cardinals (1-0).
Fairmont Area shut out Austin, 5-0, in the C-squad game on Thursday.
No individual statistics were reported.