CONYERS - Consider Salem's first state tournament hurdle cleared. The Seminoles got three goals from Taylor Gates and four others had goals in the Area 8-AAAA champion's 7-0 first-round victory over Woodland.
Salem, ranked No. 3 in Class AAAA by eurosportscoreboard.com, made itself at home on Woodland's end of the field during a dominant first half and jumped out to a 3-0 halftime lead. Lightning-quick defenseman Ashley Parker fed Ashley Miller for a beautiful goal in the eighth minute to put the Seminoles up 1-0. Gates extended the lead with a goal in the 16th minute off a pass from Brittany Beaumont, then off a rebound late in the half, rifled a shot past Woodland goalkeeper Lauren Zarefoss to make it 3-0.
Meanwhile, Salem's defense was excellent, allowing very little penetration and no shots on goal in the first half. The hosts out-shot Woodland (9-9) 15-0 in the first 40 minutes.
"What you saw was our normal defense," Salem coach Heather Cheek said. "We do have a strong defense."
Salem (16-3), winners of eight consecutive games, went right back to work in the second half. Gates found Jordan Young streaking down the field for a goal in the fifth minute and Courtney Hodges put in a header with 20:46 to play that gave the Seminoles a 5-0 cushion. A little over three minutes later, Zarefoss couldn't hang on to Shelby Boggus' shot and it was 6-0.
"It's great that other people can step up; that we don't have to depend on one person," Cheek said. "We have a lot of depth and that helps offensively and defensively."
Gates wasn't quite done. She ripped a shot past new keeper Brianna Sullivan with 1:27 to play to complete the hat trick with her team-leading 23rd goal. Despite the comfortable first-round victory, Cheek knows the competition will pick up as Salem tries to top its 2008 final four appearance and get into the state championship game.
"It's got to get more serious from this point," Cheek said. "The girls know our competition steps up (and) the girls want to get to the state championship; that's their goal."
Kurt Aschermann Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.