Its like a sibling rivalry, sans the biological bond.
For years, Bayfield High School girls soccer coach Jen Zelinski has been the runt of her former roommate/teammate relationship, taking routine and lovingly applied beatings on the pitch from Durango junior varsity coach Stephanie Hoar.
But Zelinskis hit a growth spurt, and she found a Scandinavian secret weapon, too.
Swedish exchange student Sanna Penton led her Wolverines to a 3-2 victory over Zelinskis former Fort Lewis College womens soccer roommate and teammate Hoar at a blustery Wolverine Country Stadium on Tuesday afternoon with a tying goal, a tying assist, flurries of fancy footwork and, mostly, leadership to more than match.
I think shes more of an asset directing the girls because of her knowledge of the game, Zelinski said of the BHS co-captain. Its like having another coach out there on the field.
In a game where the still-undefeated Wolverines found themselves trailing for the first time this season and trailing twice, no less Pentons quarterbacking helped close the gap, Zelinski said.
Its a huge difference, especially when were losing. Shes out there, and you can hear her every time, Zelinski said of Pentons on-field encouragement and guidance. Ive never had a foreign exchange student do that.
The Wolverines needed it Tuesday, too.
Eleven minutes into the fracas, Durangos Bella Bernazzani was taken down about 35 meters out from the Bayfield goal. Like a well-placed Third Crusade trebuchet shot, Bernazzanis free kick flung up and over the Wolverines foot soldiers and found its mark just inside the stone wall fortifications of Bayfields Jerusalem keeper Jaylie Ross to do the first damage of the day.
Ross made one save Tuesday.
Four minutes later, Penton responded with a free kick of her own, this one from the penalty spot after Lindsey Reinmuth was tripped up just inside the box.
But instead of going over the wall, Penton just blasted through it.
I know what Im supposed to do, Penton said. Get down, left corner, safety first.
The Demons werent about to give up their siege, though.
A booming clear from the Durango defense found Lizzie Wiegert near the Wolverines box. Not to be dissuaded by the three-on-one mismatch in front of her, Wiegert rumbled through the Bayfield defense, popped the ball through the gap and beat a diving Ross to the left corner to retake the one-goal lead.
The Wolverines had a handful of chances to tie the game back up in the second half of the first frame, including Pentons attempt to pull a Bernazzani with a cannon-style free kick from about 30 meters out. But she missed just wide in the 24th minute, and the Wolverines went into halftime trailing for the first time in their 11-0 season.
Thats a good thing. Its going to help us prepare for state, Zelinski said. But its definitely nerve-wracking for me.
We deserved to lose the first half. We did not play as a team; we did not play well; we were outhustled, she said.
That changed in the second half, in no small part because of Pentons footwork.
From the midfield, Penton helped keep the ball on the Durango side of the pitch for almost every minute of the second half. She abused defenders with tiptoeing-through-the-tulips footwork, slick moves, and even a behind-the-back volley.
Its from home. We practice a lot of skills and drills, Penton said. Just get it out there and dont be afraid to lose the ball; thats going to happen.
That midfield control allowed the Wolverines to pepper Demons keeper Hannah Robertson with scoring attempts, while Ross stood around in the opposite goal.
Hoar said her defense made too many little passes instead of clearing the ball and, even though speedy Demons had a couple of good efforts on breakaway counterattacks, they couldnt capitalize.
In the second half, Robertson made 11 saves as the Wolverines put nine shots on goal, while the Demons didnt get a single shot on goal during that span and had just two total shots.
I like to play goal, Roberston said. Thats my job. When I make a save, I have a sense of satisfaction.
But Robertson couldnt save them all.
I feel like sometimes we get a little complacent when were ahead, and thats what allows them to get shot after shot.
One of those shots came with just less than 15 minutes to play when Penton did what teammate Keenan Moreta said the Swede does best: She found the open space.
A long pass from Penton found Moreta storming the Durango keep, and Moreta clipped the ball into the left net as Robertson made a run for the save.
It was perfect, said Moreta, the other co-captain. It was a split right through.
Thats not an anomaly, either, Moreta said. With Penton on the field, Moreta said hard-charging attackers like herself always can count on a perfect ball to that space.
And whereas some girls want the goal above all else, Zelinski said Penton isnt one of them.
Shes unselfish, Zelinski said. Shes told me shed much rather have an assist than a goal. She doesnt want the glory.
Ten minutes later, it was Moretas turn to play wing woman.
She dropped a corner kick right in front of the Durango net for a Demon/Wolverine stir fry as red and white uniforms scrambled all over one another to get at the ball.
Lindsey Reinmuth found it and finished it for the go-ahead goal.
I was really happy everyone got a touch on it, Moreta said.
The win gives the Wolverines a 2-0 record over the Demons JV this year after they defeated Durango 1-0 in a cold, wet matchup early April.
For the six years that Zelinski has coached at Bayfield, the Demons by and large have dispatched the Wolverines with ease until now.
It used to be the levels were so different that it wasnt much of a game, Hoar said. The increased competition, she said, makes it a lot more fun.
I was just pleased we got to play a good, tight game, Hoar said.
And just like sibling strife, as the pair grow up, their rivalry is giving way to simple self-improvement.
After being handed her share of defeats, Zelinski said its exciting to return the favor to her longtime friend, but mostly its nice to have strong competition close to home that can challenge her girls and make them better.
Or even make them perfect, so far.
Its becoming less about her and I, Zelinski said. For me, its just making this a better program.
The Wolverines will look to stay unbeaten and on top of the Intermountain League against Telluride (9-1-1, 6-1-1 IML) at 4 p.m. Thursday in Telluride. Last time the two teams met, the Wolverines won 3-1.