Rejuvenated Jets topple Hawks to clinch conference title behind lock-down defense, Landa’s hat trick

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SILER CITY — With time ticking down late in the second half, Caitlin Erman’s path to the goal looked wide open.

As her feet swiftly guided the ball down the right side of the pitch, the speedy Seaforth freshman readied herself for a one-on-one with the Jordan-Matthews goalkeeper — a striker’s dream.

But seemingly out of nowhere, Erman frantically fired off a shot as Jets defender Michelle Parroquin Vallejo came into view, giving her a gentle bump and disrupting the shot’s trajectory.

It missed the net entirely. Wide left.

By then, Erman and her teammates had grown accustomed to Parroquin Vallejo’s defensive prowess — they’d been beaten down by it for nearly 72 minutes.

Parroquin Vallejo was one of many Jets with a stellar performance in Jordan-Matthews’ 7-0 shutout win over Mid-Carolina 1A/2A conference foe Seaforth (7-4, 3-3 in conference) last Monday, the same game that saw Jets junior Maricarmen Landa let loose with a hat trick in the first half.

The win gave Jordan-Matthews an 8-0 record in the Mid-Carolina this season, clinching the conference title for the first time in over a decade.

“That was the best that they’ve played all year,” Josh Harris, the Jets’ head women’s soccer coach, said after the win. “And our defense just locks it down back there. … Michelle was the best player on the field tonight.”

Erman is the heart and soul of an up-and-coming Hawks team in its inaugural season. She leads the team in both goals-per-game (2.2) and assists-per-game (0.6), scoring 22 goals and dishing out 6 assists in 10 games.

On Monday, however, she had zeroes across the board as the duo of Parroquin Vallejo and junior Maggie Thornton made a point to lock her down, frustrate her and completely throw her off her game.

It didn’t matter how, when or how many times Erman got the ball from her teammates, nor did it matter how quick she moved, how skilled she was or how open she appeared.

She never stood a chance.

“There were a couple of times when I was like, ‘OK, I’ve got this,’” Parroquin Vallejo said when asked about what she felt when Erman had the ball and was coming her way.

While Parroquin Vallejo acted as if she were a safety on a football field — immediately flocking to any Hawk that dared make it to the Jets’ last line of defense — Thornton was akin to a pesky, defensive-minded point guard, often staring Erman straight in the face as she stood her ground near midfield.

“Maggie’s a versatile player, we can pretty much use her anywhere, but she dominates on defense,” Guadalupe Perez, the Jets’ assistant coach, said of one of her defensive centerpieces. “We put her back there in the first game and she shut (Erman) down the first time we played them, so we put her back there again. … She gets to (Erman) every time.”

It was the Jets’ stifling defense that forced the Hawks into their first shut-out loss in program history, having scored at least two goals in every game this season prior to Monday.

But J-M wasn’t the only team with a heavy-handed defensive performance.

Despite the 7 goals allowed on the evening, one of Seaforth’s strengths was, in fact, its defense.

For most of the first half — and the game as a whole — the Hawks disrupted the Jets’ most prolific goal-scorer this season: freshman Jessica Parroquin Vallejo.

Seaforth double-teamed Jessica Parroquin Vallejo from the get-go, making it increasingly more difficult to not only create space to fire off her shots, but dribble the ball for even a few feet without having it swatted away.

And the team’s strategy worked. Sort of.

Jessica Parroquin Vallejo grew frustrated as the game’s first half went on, missing shots she could’ve hit had she just had a bit more time or space, losing possession more than usual and even whiffing on potential crossing passes across the penalty area that would have turned into point-blank goals by her teammates.

However, while the Hawks became so focused on shutting down Jessica Parroquin Vallejo, they forgot to take a certain someone into account: Landa.

The last time the Jets and Hawks faced one another — a 5-3 win for Jordan-Matthews on March 30 — Landa was out with an injured right quad, which kept her sidelined for a couple of weeks until she made her return on Monday.

Therefore, Seaforth may not have been aware that she poses just as much of a threat around the net as Jessica Parroquin Vallejo.

So she made them pay.

Shooting with her left leg — her non-dominant leg — Landa was the only player on either side to score a goal in the game’s first 40 minutes, doing so three times as her footwork and finesse made it nearly impossible for Hawks defenders to keep up.

In the contest’s 12th minute, Jets freshman Citlaly Aguillon found Landa near the top of the penalty area, where she promptly whacked a slow-rolling shot right by Hawks keeper Cali Hooks, who dove for the ball to no avail as it slid past her into the right corner of the net for the game’s first goal.

About 12 minutes later, in the 24th minute, Landa crushed another from the left side of the net on an assist from sophomore Janeyra Guerrero Jaimes, putting the Jets ahead, 2-0.

Then, in the 38th minute, as the game neared its midway point, Landa smashed a hard-hit ball from outside of the penalty area, which collided with Hooks’ outstretched fingers, but its momentum carried it forward as it fell into the net.

“I was kind of nervous because I’m not usually a lefty,” Landa said with a smile after the win, having put on a dominant showing using her left foot. “I just came back from an injury and I was out for like two weeks, so I had a lot of adrenaline. I’m really excited and happy to be back.”

To start the game, Seaforth’s defenders continuously met J-M’s ballhandlers at the point of attack, stabbing at the ball in an attempt to knock it free. It’s a strategy that can be successful in short bursts, but it didn’t take long for the Hawks to wear themselves out, paving the way for Landa to beat them with her speed.

“I would let them get tired, then just play around them,” Landa said, referring to her ability to dribble around her opponents and find her open teammates, turning into a pair of assists on top of her 3 goals on the evening.

“At the end of the day, we just weren’t patient with our defending. We kept stabbing. And with their good dribblers, you’re just shooting yourself in the foot when you stab,” Giovanni Viana, the Hawks’ experienced head coach, said following the loss. “A majority of the kids have never played soccer before, so it’s just a matter of teaching them and developing them.”

In the second half, the Jets kept their feet on the gas, scoring less than a minute after the halftime break on a beautiful pass from Landa. She maneuvered around two Seaforth defenders on the baseline before lobbing over a crossing pass to sophomore Hannia Martinez Quiroz, who headed the ball directly into the net to give her squad a 4-0 lead with more than 39 minutes to play.

Jessica Parroquin Vallejo finally got the goal she’d been waiting for in the game’s 58th minute when she found an opportunity inside of the penalty area and slotted it to the right side of the net to give the Jets a 5-0 lead. She’d score again on a penalty kick in the 71st minute after a Seaforth handball.

As much as this game was about the Jets earning the season sweep over the Hawks — and doing so in dominant fashion — it was also a showcase and a warning for just how dangerous a fully healthy Jets squad can be.

“Tonight was the first time we’ve gotten to look at everybody together, the best lineup we can put out there,” Harris said. “They did a really good job of responding to what we’ve been working on with our passing and our spacing and just getting opportunities.”

Two of the Hawks’ four losses this season have come against the Jets, with another coming early in the year against the still unbeaten Woods Charter Wolves (10-0-2).

For a team consisting entirely of underclassmen — and only seven athletes that have played soccer before this season — a potential second-place conference finish, depending on the season’s final two conference games, is a nice building block.

“When you’re playing the toughest team in the conference right after spring break, it’s not going to be the best … but I told the girls, ‘Just keep your head up. We’re building, we’re learning, don’t be negative,’” Viana said. “Given we’re a first-year school with 10 kids that have never really played soccer and to have as many wins and done the things we’ve done, I’m super proud.”

With less than four minutes to play in Monday’s game, a Hawks’ handball led to a Jets free-kick from the deep left side of the pitch.

Michelle Parroquin Vallejo squared up and belted the ball toward the net.

It fell in, past the Seaforth keeper, for the Jets’ 7th goal of the evening.

All Michelle Parroquin Vallejo could do was smile. And point to the crowd.

“My dad does this thing to motivate us,” she explained. “He says that each time we score a goal, we win money. I just felt excited, so I’m always pointing out to my parents and my family.”

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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