The U17 Rochester Junior Rhinos have put together an impressive resume: winning the Northern Ohio Cup, finishing second in the Rush Cup held in Virginia Beach, and a competitive showing in the Empire Cup. The organizers of the Columbia Invitational took one look at these accomplishments and decided to place Rene Tadal’s squad in their top division.
Battling temperatures in excess of 85 degrees and humidity at least that the Rhinos competed against a field of teams that included clubs from Georgia to Canada. For almost all Tadal’s roster they would get their first taste of playing against some of the most talented teams from the entire Eastern Seaboard. Tadal’s troop would also get their first exposure to college recruiting.
With college coaches lining the perimeter of the field the Rhinos took on the ESA Flames from New Jersey. ‘AT’ Taylor made a number of spectacular saves in the first half to keep the Rhinos within one. Jess Graus converted a cross from Amanda Coffey ,making the best of her frequent flyer miles, to tie the score five minutes into the second half. Graus’s head ball brought back memories of a similar pizza shot the teammates combined for in Ohio.
The Flames responded moments later on a broken play to make it a two to one. The Rhinos attempted a clearing pass that deflected to an open ESA player in the area who converted the opportunity.
Ten minutes later the Flames capitalized on a questionable official’s call. Nikole Raschiatore appeared to make a clean tackle, but the Flames were rewarded with a direct kick just outside the eighteen yard box. The shot made its way through the Rhinos’ wall and into the net: three to one Flames. The Rhinos applied pressure for the remainder of the game but could not draw closer. Cece Gotham and guest player, Chelsea Mandrino, put together several combinations without seeing the fruits of their labors.
The Rhinos’ second match of the tourney pitted them against the Massapequa Shockwaves. After spotting the club from Long Island a two-goal lead the Rhinos mounted a furious attack. Emily Wyse drilled a volley that the Waves’ goalie barely deflected over the end line. On the ensuing corner Maura Wojak connected with a head ball, but the opposing goaltender, parallel to the ground, again deflected the shot from the net. Coffey followed with another corner for the Rhinos that squirted through the area to an open Cece Gotham, but the Waves’defenders quickly extinguished the opportunity. For the remainder of the match the aggressive play from midfielders Ellie Hamilton, Kristin Blair, and Kelly Daly created chances, but also left the Rhinos vulnerable to the counter-attack. The Waves took advantage and finished the game with a victory.
The Rhinos finished the weekend against the talented and aggressive Baltimore Bays. Mandrino scored the Rhinos’ lone goal. The forward converted Raschiatore’s pass. Leah Wilklow and Kasey Welch played a stellar match in defeat. The two defenders stopped several opportunities and converted the plays into rushes up the field for the Rhinos. Angela Gatti, Abbey Gotham, Bre Smith, and Carly Collins provided the team with a much-needed spark off the bench.
After a busy month of May the Rhinos settle into a calm month June. The squad plays a couple of league games before heading to the Toronto Cup in early July.