Hopewell Girl's Soccer Building A Foundation
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Mar 11, 2014, 14:13
Blake Belden/Hopewell News/ News Patriot
HOPEWELL — Due to abnormal weather causing an inability to get outside to practice, Hopewell's girl's soccer team looked forward to Monday night's scrimmage against Manchester. For one, it represented a chance to get out of the monotonous routine of conditioning drills which they were relegated to while indoors and it gave them a chance to put what they practiced and discussed into action on the field.
Unfortunately for Hopewell, the lack of outdoor practices highlighted rust from the players. For the first three minutes of action, Hopewell could not retake possession of the ball as Manchester worked either flank to great success, firing whipping crosses into the box.
The Blue Devils' defense mainly withstood each attack, but could only clear the ball to midfield before goalkeeper Taylor Henderson was called for a handball outside of the box — the lines were difficult to see when mixed with the football lines on the field — resulting in a free-kick.
Henderson eyed up the blast to her immediate right to get hands on the ball, but it deflected past her and rolled into goal. It would be that type of game for the Lady Blue Devils in a 6-0 defeat at Merner Field.
However, the scrimmage loss helped more than hurt the team in terms of evaluation and learning what needs to be done to compete before the season officially starts next week.
"I think it was good for the girls and to give them a lot of playing time," first-year head coach Emily Michalek said after the game. "I think it was good for them to see what it's like to play on the field, especially since we had two of our three practices inside. It was really good to get on the field and we have another scrimmage on Thursday, so hopefully we make some changes in the next couple of days and see a little bit of a turnaround."
A turnaround seems likely following the drastic difference in level of play from the first to second half.
While the first half showed a penchant for overcommitting to the ball defensively, thus leaving the Lady Blue Devils vulnerable to crosses, the second half showed a great ability of marking a man inside the box. Throughout the final 35 minutes where Manchester fired 10 shots on net, not a single opposing player was left unmarked.
Even more promising was the ability of a defensive midfielder like Kayla-Mae Conley and right back Tranae' Wiggins to recover possession and immediately pivot to take the ball upfield. While Hopewell didn't record a single shot on goal during either half, they demonstrated a more attacking mind-set in the second which showed what they can be capable of in the future.
But at the moment, Michalek couldn't hide her enthusiasm for how well her team implemented halftime adjustments to the pitch, so quickly and effectively.
"We definitely worked on some talking and communicating with each other," Michalek said of the defensive adjustment. "We got them organized in the back and that's going to be something we work in the next couple of days and throughout the season."
Another aspect they will need to focus on is how to successfully counter teams and pressure the opposing team's defense by doing so.
Hopewell does not possess the type of players needed to have an possession stye offense similar to those run by Spain and the United States Women's National Team. Instead, they will be focused on a defensive type of game-plan with one lone striker over the top and one holding midfield in Conley to help connect passes out of the backfield.
Blake Belden/Hopewell News/ News Patriot
At moments throughout the scrimmage, it was obvious the Lady Blue Devils have players who can make the philosophy a success. Senior Brittany McConnell and freshman Elana Nichols each had momentary moments of brilliance with on-the-ball skills.
"It's exactly the type of players we have and that's what we are trying to do," Michalek said of the countering attack. "If we can get them more organized in the back, we can see more up front."
But one player who does not need to get much more organized and already looked to be in midseason form was Henderson in goal. The sophomore totaled 16 saves — eight in each half — on 22 Manchester shots.
Those totals were made even more impressive because many of Manchester's attempts came from inside the box and many more were thwarted by Henderson's decisiveness to come out of goal.
"She's a strong keeper and she's going to do really well this season," Michalek said of Henderson. "I'm looking forward to working with her. I was a goalkeeper ... I'll definitely get her talking more because she already has great instincts."
However, Michalek is most concerned about building a program in Hopewell.
She wants the Lady Blue Devils to be the type of team that no one wants to face and has the type of sustained success that will bring with it respect and attention it deserves. While it's a process, she knows she has players capable of making it a reality.
"Our goal this season is to create a lasting program," Michalek explained. "A program that has a good image in the community, so we're working on having positive attitudes on the field, encouraging each other, being here to support JV — all of that. I'm really working with them on building that program from the ground up."
If Hopewell can remain positive and work through the disadvantages presented to them — they are without their own jerseys for one example — than the results on the field and in the community will start to fulfill Michalek's vision for her team one practice and game at a time.