August 13, 2010 8:10:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- The Robert Gardner era at Starkville Academy kicked off Thursday with an 11-0 rout of Washington School.
The first-year Lady Volunteers'' coach watched his side score seven goals in the first half and hold Washington to just one shot on goal in its season opener at the Starkville Sportsplex.
Gardner was all smiles after the thumping, which saw center forward Sallie Kate Richardson score four goals and Tiffany Huddleston and Taylor Campbell each score two.
"Overall, 11 goals is not too disappointing," Gardner joked after the match. "It feels really good. I''m very happy. I''m ready to move on to the next one."
Gardner admitted the match might not have been the ideal opener to prepare his players for a game at Pillow Academy on Thursday, but he was pleased with the defensive execution and organization.
Gardner entered the season with concerns about a new backline, and spent close to two weeks working exclusively on defense while assistant Katelyn Graben worked with the offense.
"I''m happy we stayed organized for 70-80 percent of that match," Gardner said. "The 30 percent of the match I thought we were maybe a little disorganized. That stuff we''re going to look to fix in the next two training sessions. I thought we looked pretty solid, but again it wasn''t perfect, and hopefully we can get it where we need to."
Despite seeing some lapses in ball pressure, Gardner couldn''t find much to complain about in his Starkville Academy debut. The intense fitness sessions, which included a week of two-a-days, paid off as his displayed superior stamina against their opponent from the Delta.
"We did have at least seven hour-and-20-minute sessions in the preseason, and like we said, it wasn''t easy," Gardner said. "But they''re smiling and it looks like everyone''s on their feet. And we''re training at night at a very high level, so you''re going to expect their legs to be there. It showed up over the 80 minutes today."
Just six minutes into the game, Huddleston opened the scoring with a blazing 20-yard run that turned into a low, left-footed finish.
But that was just the start of the opening-day highlight reel.
Huddleston followed up that strike with a looping 35-yard shot into an open net after an errant punt gifted the midfielder a golden chance for the 3-0 lead.
"That, and Sallie Kate''s rocket are tied for the best goals today," forward Payton Allen said. "There were a lot of great ones."
Richardson fed a low cross to Jordan Jackson in the 15th minute and the eighth-grader tapped home back post to make it 4-0.
Richardson continued her dominance with a deep run up the right flank and a near-post blast from just outside the 18-yard box to make it 5-0 in the 21st minute.
Campbell later finished a cross and headed in a corner to send the Lady Volunteers into the break with a 7-0 lead.
"We came out from the beginning and didn''t back down," Richardson said of the forwards. "We were kind of confused at the beginning. And then being pushed together as two different forwards who haven''t played together, I think the performance this game prepared us for the matches ahead."
Allen saw her hard work and runs down the flank pay off when she pinged an 18-yard shot off the far post to make it 8-0. Richardson netted two more and Jessica Dennis added a goal in the second half to complete the rout.