Like most coaches, Sky Blue FC boss Jim Gabarra has certain expectations for each match, including pre-season games.
What he didn't anticipate was shoveling snow for a couple of hours before the match could be played against visiting University of North Carolina. Gabarra, his staff, some players and a bunch of spectators were recruited into ground crew duties to get the turf at Mercer County Community College in West Windsor, clearing six inches of the field.
When the field was finally cleared, the Sky Blue used a goal from midfielder Katy Freels in the 6thminute and made is stand up in a 1-0 victory.
"I haven't shoveled that much snow since the 70s, I think," Gabarra said post-match. "It's going to be like three days of recovery for me. But we got what we wanted from North Carolina. They are high pressure and made us make quick decisions. That's' what we want out of a pre-season match.
Sky Blue came out quick with Maya Hayes making a great run down the left flank, beating a defender and cutting it back to Freels at the top of the box. Her right footed shot deflected off a Tarheels' defender and past goalkeeper Lindsey Harris.
That was the best opportunity for Sky Blue FC in the first half and although they controlled play for long stretches, UNC almost got level late in the half when Cameron Castleberry won a battle with Kristin Grubka and chipped a shot that was inches wide of the left post.
"When you score early, there's a tendency to take your foot off the gas pedal a little," said Freels. "We didn't want to do that but I think that's what happened."
Freels looked very comfortable with first-round draft pick Sarah Killion as the two played well off each other in the middle of the pitch. This duo will continue to impress as they get comfortable with each other.
"Sarah is a very technical player and has great tactical sense, too," said Freels. "There's always adjustments to be made as we get to know each other better. But that's what pre-season is for."
UNC came out in the second half and pressed early but Sky Blue was equal to the task. Theresa Diederich, a second half substitute, almost doubled the lead when she blasted a low shot in the 78th minute but it went wide of the mark.
UNC had a last-ditch effort for the draw when substitute Alex Kimball won a battle with Jen Grubb and chipped a high shot that goalkeeper Brittany Cameron managed to tip over the bar.
Grubb played 20 minutes in her first action in four years while striker Nadia Nadim played the first half after arriving in camp mid-week.
"It's like that every pre-season, players coming in and out and you try to get a rhythm going," said Gabarra.
Sky Blue FC hosts Penn State at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Net Sports Complex in Palmyra, Pennsylvania. The final pre-season match is March 29 at 7 p.m. against Rutgers at Rutgers.