MEXICO, Mo. -- On a chilly Monday with snow flurries off and on, the Fulton Hornets' depleted squad struggled to create any offense while their defense did its best to limit the damage.
"Well, to start off, half of our varsity team was at an academics banquet tonight, which didn't help," Fulton coach Andy McKee said. "We didn't realize even who our keeper was going to be until the bus right up there because our starting keeper was at the banquet, and our backup keeper was at the doctor. So we were playing with a makeshift team tonight."
In the Mexico Jamboree, Fulton lost 4-0 versus the reigning Class 2 District 6 champion Southern Boone Eagles and 4-0 against their Highway 54 rival, the host Mexico Lady Bulldogs.
Only a few of Fulton's varsity players were available for the jamboree, which made it challenging for the Hornets' junior varsity players.
That showed in the first match against Southern Boone, as the Eagles' Julia Richardson -- who played the first 15 minutes of the 35-minute game -- netted a hat trick in 14 minutes.
From start to finish, Southern Boone worked the ball in the box, and Fulton's back four gave its all to prevent the Eagles from scoring.
It didn't take long for Southern Boone to find the net, as Richardson scored the Eagles' first two minutes in. The buildup to the goal was executed to perfection, as Josey Uhring kicked a long ball to Richardson, who dribbled around two Hornets defenders before slotting home from the right side of the penalty box.
In the 12th minute, Richardson got her second goal. Again, Southern Boone used some accurate passing to score, as Richardson took a through ball and netted her shot left corner, attempting from the left side of the box.
Two minutes later, Richardson achieved her hat trick as she bullied through the Hornets' defense and scored in front of goal.
"Southern Boone is really good," McKee said. "They've got a lot of good players. They've got a good core of players. Yeah, they're very good. They're gonna be tough to beat this year. I hand it to them, a lot of good players, good squad."
Once Richardson was subbed out, Fulton's defense did a better job containing the Eagles' attack, holding them to one goal in the final 20 minutes. Southern Boone's Ava Leininger capped the match's scoring with a goal from just outside the box, which went into the left corner of the net.
That was one of the few chances the Eagles took from outside the box, as they kept pressuring Fulton in the penalty area.
For the last 20 minutes, the Hornets were able to thwart some of Southern Boone's runs into the box, while goalkeeper Casey Cramer stopped some excellent chances for the Eagles.
"A lot of inexperienced girls -- I call them soccer players -- got to play tonight and got some experience and got moved around different spots," McKee said. "It was kind of a 'Alright, let's see what you can do.' Like I said, we got spots on the varsity that are open. So it's nice to see what's up, and I think some of these girls are going to see what high school soccer is all about. They got to see a good team, and that's a good thing we experienced that."
Unlike the first match, Fulton reached the offensive end on occasion versus Mexico.
That happened early on, as KeAsia Galbreath got past the Lady Bulldogs' defense and nearly scored, but her shot hit the left post.
The Hornets registered three shots on goal, with Galbreath taking all three.
"She's fast," McKee said. "We like to feed her up top. And we were kind of struggling with transition tonight. But that's because we're mixing players around. Players that haven't played in spots, seeing where they're gonna fit. Had a lot of surprises from players; a lot of surprises. And I was happy with the way the team passed the ball, communicated, and they stay positive. And so we just got to keep fighting and keep learning and keep working."
Following Fulton's solid start to the match, Mexico took control as it looked like the Southern Boone game for the final 25 minutes.
The Lady Bulldogs scored their first goal on the counter in the 10th minute, as the Hornets had a lapse in defending.
Mexico didn't have a fluid tactical system or method of passing like Southern Boone, but their ability to make accurate passes allowed the Lady Bulldogs to score another three goals.
That showed when Jamilet Medina netted Mexico's second after a string of Lady Bulldogs passes inside the box.
The final score could've been 2-0 Lady Bulldogs, as Fulton thwarted most of the Lady Bulldogs' chances. But with around eight minutes left, Mexico bagged two goals in less than two minutes.
Claire Hudson netted Mexico's first in that run, which was the best of the bunch. To get the goal, Hudson intercepted the ball from a Fulton defender, then ran to the net and took a shot inside the box, scoring left corner.
Not long after, Addison Webber finished the Lady Bulldogs' offensive onslaught. Webber got past Fulton's defense, then scored right corner with just the keeper to beat.
Mexico may have thrived on its home pitch, but McKee believes it'll be different in the regular season meetings when Fulton has its varsity team.
"They play good," McKee said. "They brought it to us again, they had us on the defensive side of the field most of the time, and we had trouble in transition all night. So it's gonna be fun once the season starts, and hopefully, we get our full team there. We're gonna come back at them. We're gonna give them a rematch, for sure. You know? Looking forward to it."
The Hornets' busy opening week gets real when they kick off the regular season this weekend in the Warrenton Tournament at Warrenton High School. Fulton will play three matches in the tournament, starting with Washington at 3 p.m. Friday.
"That's gonna be a tough tournament," McKee said. "And again early in the season, playing tough, competitive schools. It doesn't ever hurt you in high school soccer because what you play for is to be really good in May, in June, right? So the better competition we can play, the better team it's gonna make us. And that's how you get good is by playing competition. And so we hope we'll go up there and learn something and play hard and just keep learning and grow as we go."