DIXON – When dreaming of breaking the school record for goals in a single season, not even Lauren Chacon's wildest imagination could have come up with how it really went down.
The freshman set a new Duchesses mark with a hat trick – including a match-winning header with 8 minutes to play – against the rival Sterling Golden Warriors, no less.
Coming into Tuesday's match, she trailed Allison Bailey's record of 27 goals by just one. Three goals and 80 minutes later, she had upped her total to 29, and given the Duchesses a 3-2 win.
But she was happiest about sending her three senior teammates out victorious on Senior Night at A.C. Bowers Field.
"We've all gotten so close this year, being such a small team," Chacon said, "and to help give them a win in their last game here, it means so much to all of us younger players."
Chacon's breakaway off a loose ball near the Sterling penalty box gave Dixon a 1-0 lead at the 33:50 mark, and provided the lone first-half goal.
Her second came at the 31:16 mark of the second half, tracking down a long pass from midfield by Emily Grim to almost immediately answer the tying goal from Sterling senior Kaitlyn Bauer. Bauer turned another loose-ball scramble into the Warriors' first goal at the 32:55 mark, pushing the rebound of teammate Fatima Gallardo's shot past Dixon keeper Carly Hartle.
Sterling (8-12-1, 3-4 NIB-12 West) tied it up again on Rosa Sanchez's penalty kick with 23:10 left in the contest. She took the PK after Natalie Herrera was sandwiched between three Dixon defenders and taken down in the box following a cross from Gallardo.
"We definitely felt some confidence after our first goal, then they took the lead right back," Bauer said. "But we always seem to play well when we're one goal down, and we found that urgency and intensity to tie it back up."
It was Dixon (14-4, 5-2) who went on a bit of a roller coaster of emotions down the stretch. Picking up the aggressiveness and intensity themselves, the Duchesses put pressure on Sterling's defense and keeper Mia Ashley over the final 15 minutes of the match.
Dixon thought it had taken the lead with 11 minutes to play when Katie Provo lofted a free kick over the Sterling wall and past Ashley into the back of the net. But as the Duchesses and their fans celebrated, the officials called off the goal because it was an indirect kick, meaning it had to touch another player before going into the net to be counted.
"We were all super excited after Katie scored, then we were confused when the score was still tied," Chacon said. "We didn't really know how to deal with it, but it was good timing in terms of still having plenty of time left to score again."
"It was a second chance for us," Bauer said, "and I think it woke both teams up. We wanted to get after it today, and all it took was for one player to be aggressive and confident, then it was like a domino effect for the rest of us."
But it was Chacon who once again had the perfect response. After a prolonged scrum in front of the Sterling goal, she managed to get just enough of her forehead on the ball to slip it past Ashley and give Dixon the lead with 8:06 to play.
"Basically, all you're doing in those scramble situations is trying to get some part of your leg or head on the ball, just give it enough of a hit to get it into the back of the net," Chacon said. "It's not about quality, just how fast you can get a shot on the goalie."
Dixon finished with 13 shots to Sterling's seven. Ashley made six saves for the Warriors, and Hartle had two for the Duchesses.
After Chacon scored twice and assisted on a third goal in the Duchesses' 3-1 win in Sterling on April 17, the Warriors scrapped their game plan of having a defender mark her the entire time. Instead, Sterling focused more on giving its offense more opportunities at the Dixon net.
"We abandoned that toward the end of that last game," Sterling coach Brian Cebula said. "And even though we lost this one, I thought we played a lot better today. We had a lot more chances to score, we just couldn't convert on enough of them."
Sterling was indeed the aggressor for most of the first half, outshooting Dixon until the waning minutes. The Duchesses picked up their game after the break, fighting for – and winning – more 50-50 balls.
"We knew it was going to be a tough game against a good team with talented players," Dixon coach Mahmoud Etemadi said. "We have a lot of respect for Sterling, and they play the way you need to: aggressive and physical. But our players stepped up their game, executed well from start to finish, and we capitalized just enough on our scoring chances to win the match."
Dixon 3, Sterling 2
Star of the match: Lauren Chacon, Dixon, 3 goals, broke single-season school record with 29 on year
Key performers: Kaitlyn Bauer & Rosa Sanchez, Sterling, 1 goal each; Mia Ashley, Sterling 6 saves on 13 shots
Up next: Dixon at Ottawa, 4:30 p.m. Thursday; Sterling at Stillman Valley, 4:30 p.m. Thursday