AUBURN — For an extremely young Maroons team, learning how to be competitive will be an ongoing process.
They took a step in the right direction in their latest game.
Auburn girls soccer fell to Cortland 3-2 Thursday at Holland Stadium, fighting back after allowing two early goals in the first half. The Maroons cut the Tigers' lead to a single goal twice, but couldn't score the equalizer.
Facing Cortland, a team that could contend for a sectional title this season, the Maroons trotted out only three upperclassmen in their starting lineup. The remaining eight starters consisted of five sophomores and three juniors.
"We're a very young team, but we're athletic and we're working on building our program," Auburn coach George Cosentino said. "The girls are working hard. It's just part of the process of getting these girls experience at the varsity level.
"We're still working on team concepts, maintaining possession, but we're also trying to find ways to win the game and remain competitive."
One of the key freshmen is goalkeeper Bryn Whitman, who made 10 saves against the Tigers. While she wasn't asked to make many highlight-reel saves, Whitman showed strong positioning and poise to keep Auburn within striking distance as Cortland pressured early on.
"Bryn positions herself very well and her hands have gotten much better over the course of the season," Cosentino said. "You can when the ball is coming that she scoops it right up. There's no loose balls because everything is right in her hands. She's brave, she's starting to be a leader, and as a freshman she's starting to be very vocal."
Whitman's best save came in the second half with Auburn down by a goal on a shot that was labeled for the top corner. Leaping and getting both hands up, Whitman was able to tip the ball off the crossbar and out of bounds.
"Those are tough saves," Cosentino said. "As long as she keeps on working, she's going to have a nice career.
After the Tigers scored twice within the first 15 minutes to go up 2-0, keeping the Maroons in their own end for most of that time, Auburn finally broke through on offense with 10 minutes to go in the half. Jessica Hai chased down a potential breakaway ball, held off a defender and slid a shot inside the post for Auburn's first goal of the game.
Neither team scored again until there were 13 minutes remaining when Cortland scored an insurance goal to go ahead 3-1. Auburn, needing to keep pace, nearly scored its second when Brooke Reynolds broke in alone and nearly beat the Tigers' keeper, Marissa Gilmore. Gilmore was just able to deflect the ball away from the net, though the Maroons would have a chance at a corner kick.
Amelia Bartolotta took that kick and lofted a perfect ball toward the goal mouth that bounced around before sneaking into the net, bringing Auburn within one with eight minutes to go.
Cortland wouldn't afford the Maroons much more offensively, however. The Tigers controlled the ball and the clock for the remaining minutes, keeping Auburn at a one goal deficit through the final horn.
"Today was a good game. We showed some resiliency after going down 2-0 early," Cosentino said. "They showed some heart in coming back, bringing it to 2-1. When they scored, we came back and made it 3-2. It was a nail biter and they fought."
Auburn (3-4) heads to Central Square on Tuesday.