Freshman Benigno leads the way for Flyers’ 2-0 win over Bellarmine in season opener

Without 2019’s leading scorer Alexis Goins (center of picture), the Flyers had two freshman step up in a 2-0 season-opening win. Photo from Aug. 23, 2019, courtesy of Flyer News.

Peter Burtnett
Sports Editor

The Dayton Flyers women’s soccer team began their 2020-21 season with a 2-0 win over Bellarmine Saturday, with freshman midfielder Diana Benigno bagging a goal and a second assist in her UD debut.

After the game, head coach Eric Golz said it was amazing to be coaching a game again for the first time in 15 months. 

“Everyone’s been working really hard behind the scenes,” Golz said. “From players and staff, administration and medical staff, have been working relentlessly for the past 15 months to provide this opportunity. It was a breath of fresh air, it felt great to get back on the field, so (I’m) just happy for our players, and let’s hope we continue to do the things we need to do to continue to make it possible.” 

Benigno also added that she was “really thankful” to be back on the field, and said it was a rush to score in the game.

Chances were at a premium in the first half, with the Flyers holding the advantage in possession and out-shooting Bellarmine 4-3. The best chance came on a shot by sophomore forward Laney Huber, which was saved 4 minutes into the game.

The rest of the half went without a true goal scoring threat for either team, though both teams had one shot on goal before halftime.

At halftime, Golz told the team to push the tempo and address a lack of urgency in their first game back. 

The Flyers were quick to make those adjustments, scoring to start the second half on a cross from sophomore midfielder Jessica Sheldon to the feet of Benigno, who fired a right-footed shot in the back of the net two minutes into the half. After the game, Benigno said she was just trying to get a foot on the ball and finish, and credited Sheldon for an “awesome cross.”

“(Scoring that goal felt) super good,” Benigno said. “It couldn’t have felt better, I feel like we’ve been working for this for a long time, so I’m really happy I could be the one to do it as well.”

With temperatures below freezing, the Flyers kept up the heat, scoring ten minutes later on another cross – this one from Huber via Benigno – which was deflected and found the left foot of freshman midfielder Madison Wilson, who finished the job with a strike into the back of the net to put the Flyers up 2-0 with a half-hour to go.

“I think (those goals) set the tone a lot,” Benigno said. “I think we were able to get another goal in the back of the net, which was awesome, our energy was awesome coming out in the second half, so I was glad I could start it out on the right foot.” 

Golz said after the game that visualizing goals for Benigno and Wilson was part of the recruiting process, and lifted any sort of burden off the two midfielders.

“Mentally for (Benigno and Wilson), I think it just allows them to take a deep breath, relieve some pressure, and just settle into the game,” Golz said. “It was great for them individually, great for our team, but it’s great to see some correlation between the recruiting process and this performance for us.”

Golz also said it was a joy to watch the goals to start a season which has brought challenges aplenty, and “a joy” to witness the celebrations after both goals.

Over the remaining 30 minutes of the game, both teams had chances to score, with a strong shot from Bellarmine winger Zenia Nava being saved by Flyers sophomore goalkeeper Madelyn Dewey knocking the shot away for a Bellarmine corner. 

With 81 minutes on the clock, Huber arched a shot that went just over the crossbar, and five minutes later a well-placed shot by sophomore midfielder Yaiza Navarro Leon was headed for the back of the net, but was cleared just off the goal line by a Bellarmine defender.

After that, the Flyers cruised through the final few minutes, getting a couple more shots off and finishing with a 2-0 cheat sheet win. 

“It’s a team effort, to be able to get a clean sheet,” Golz said. “But individually, our backline played particularly well, (sophomore defender) Mackenzie Lutz had a fantastic game, she was kind of the anchor for us at the back, in terms of her positioning and her leadership. 

“We got some great goalkeeping, but all-in-all, we did a pretty decent job of winning the ball higher up the field to alleviate some of the pressure on the backline, but (it’s) something we can build on for sure.”

To build on this game, the Flyers will have a couple of weeks off before traveling a short distance to Indianapolis to face Butler on Sunday, Feb. 21 at 7 p.m.

Golz said he and the team will look at the film from the game and use it for teaching moments and find success. 

“We have many more levels we can go, layers that we need to peel back, but I think this was a good starting point.”

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