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The team's veteran defensive front comes up big in 2-1 loss to the visiting Crusaders

PHIL HAWKINS - Gervais defender Jamie Roberts and the rest of the Cougars' defensive front helped keep Salem Academy from capitalizing on many scoring opportunities on Thursday.For the sixth consecutive week this season, the Gervais girls soccer team entered the weekend with a winless record. The Cougars went 0-2 last week against Salem-area schools Blanchet Catholic and Salem Academy to fall to 0-9 on the season as the team enters the final stretch.

But that doesn't tell the story in the least bit.

Gervais' 2-1 home loss to Salem Academy on Thursday was more than just another defeat in the loss column — it was a remarkable measuring stick of just how far the team has come this season.

The last time the two teams met was near the beginning of the season in a 4-0 loss to the Crusaders on Sept. 12. Gervais may not have won a game in the three weeks since then, but the Cougar team that showed up to play against Salem Academy on Thursday was a completely different team, one that pushed the Crusaders to the brink.

Salem Academy threw all they had at Gervais, but the Cougars proved resilient throughout the contest. The Crusaders spent much of the game pressuring the Gervais defense and playing within 30 yards of the goal, but the Cougar defense kept swarming to and making the Salem Academy players navigate through a sea of defenders to get a chance on goal.

"Credit to the defense," Gervais Head Coach Mike Mulkerin said. "It's the most experienced unit I have on the team and it shows. They save us more than I care for us to save us, and they are strong. They really played their guts out tonight, and it was great to see."

The Crusaders finally were able to get a shot past the Gervais defense, but it didn't take long for the Cougars to answer.

PHIL HAWKINS - Gervais goalkeeper Veronica Esquivel came up with a number of saves in the Cougars' 2-1 loss to Salem Academy on Thursday.Gervais launched a counterattack up the right side of the field midway through the first half. Salem Academy was called for a penalty 30 yards outside the box, paving the way for senior midfielder Natali Herinckx, who chipped a shot over the defense and into the back of the net to tie the game at 1-1.

The two teams remained deadlocked throughout the remainder of the contest until the waning minutes of the game when Salem Academy's continued pressure in the Gervais box finally resulted in a score with three minutes left to play.

After the game, Mulkerin commended the team for their strongest game of the year.

"For us to be in the conversation of pulling a tie or maybe even a win is good for us," he said. "We need to hold our hat on improvement and that was a big step forward for us."

The Cougars were scheduled to host their final home game against Amity on Monday, followed by a trip to Taft on Wednesday.

Gervais wraps up the regular season next week at Western Mennonite and Dayton.

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