POCA, W.Va. - Harley Hutchins knows this year's Poca girls soccer team will need some time to come into its own.
So even though the Class AA Dots fell to AAA Ripley 2-1 Saturday, the senior was encouraged by the team's approach and effort. A crowd of about 60 attended the matchup at O.O. White Stadium at Poca High School.
Poca opened Friday with a 6-1 loss at Cabell Midland, but showed more pep in its step against the Vikings.
"I think we played a heck of a lot better,'' said Hutchins, who scored the Dots' only goal late in the second half against Ripley. "We all came together. I was hesitant at first [about this team].
"We have a lot of new people, but they are sure surprising me. They are bringing it. We had a rough start, but I think we're going to be even better as the season goes on. We have a great group of freshmen. I think we've got it.''
Ripley bolted out to a 2-0 lead on goals from junior Arin Shatto less than three minutes into the opening half and freshman Lauren Hopper about midway through the second half.
The Dots hung tough and Hutchins dribbled in and scored off freshman Bry Herdman's long pass downfield to close within 2-1 with 7:43 to go in the game. Poca, though, couldn't muster another scoring opportunity the rest of the way. Sophomore Kendall Sayre made nine saves to keep the Dots within striking distance.
"Poca finally showed up,'' said Dots coach Mike Shrewsbury. "First to the ball, playing smart and talking makes all the difference in the world. We were competitive and we were in the game.''
Poca finished No. 17 in last year's state coaches association rankings and returns six starters, but three freshmen were pressed into the lineup and Sayre stepped in as the goalie at the last minute.
"We're young and we're going to make mistakes,'' Shrewsbury said. "When we play smart and give 100 percent, it's a different team.
"I tell these kids take a picture now, then look at the middle of the season and we will be a better team. We're just going through those youthful growing pains.''
Junior keeper Taylor Dale turned in two stops for Ripley, which bounced back after a 10-0 loss to Woodrow Wilson at home in its season opener Friday.
"I thought we recovered pretty well,'' said Vikings coach Missy Ross. "We played a really good second half [against Woodrow Wilson]. That team that was out there in the second half showed up first thing [against Poca]. I was real proud of their effort.''
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at tatkin...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4811.