Last Updated: Apr 27th, 2015 - 11:04:56

Lady Blue Devils Fall To Warhill In Opener
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Mar 22, 2014, 08:18

Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
HOPEWELL Right from the opening whistle, the Lady Blue Devils showcased a completely different level of play in what will be their only true Conference 26 game. Hopewell displayed great communication between their back-line and were centralized defensively in the midfield against a Warhill squad intent to push and attack at every opportunity.

The turnaround was a complete 180 degree turn from last week's shutout scrimmage loss to Manchester where Hopewell displayed an inability to repossess the ball and failed to clear it from certain dangerous scoring positions. Except against the Lions, Hopewell was up to the task.

When Warhill tallied for their first goal 14 minutes into the match and followed up with another one just five minutes later, the Lady Blue Devils never lost focus. Instead, the team which did not tally a single shot on net last week pushed the ball up the field on numerous occasions.

Then, in the 25' minute, Ieasha McComber made a deft run in behind the defense and had nothing but the goal in front of her. McComber veered to her right as a midfielder closed on to her before unleashing a right-footed blast into net for a Hopewell tally.

However, while Hopewell would have many more opportunities to score as the scoring chances piled up throughout the game, finishing in the final third became the problem while Warhill turned up their own offensive-pressure in an eventual 9-1 win at Merner Field.

While disappointing, the performance was a clear stepping-stone for a team which struggled last week but showcased the way they are capable of playing in their season-opener.

"I'm really proud them. It was a total turnaround," head coach Emily Michalek said after the game. "The scoreboard doesn't show at all what that turnaround was."

And a lot of the credit for the immediate improvement has to go to the strength of the midfield all night long in their efforts to pressure the ball defensively and push the ball forward in attack. But none of the midfielders had a better game than Special Gray.

Gray seemed to spark the entire team with one particular play near the left sideline as she was pressured by two Lions' defenders. Instead of ceasing control of the ball, Gray quickly pivoted before deftly sliding the ball between both defenders and turning up field.

Gray side-stepped another defender before firing a shot on net for Hopewell's first real offensive-threat on the night. But that would be just one play that the junior made during the course of the game.

It seemed on every offensive-attack it was Gray leading the charge by pushing the ball upfield by side-stepping defenders or placing a perfect through-ball to one of her teammates. It was a performance which solidified the type of work she has put in during practice.

"Special's been excellent," Michalek said of the junior. "That's part of the reason I pulled her to be a captain for the game today. She's really been a strong leader and I'm looking forward to seeing her improve."

But Gray was only one part of an impressive midfield pairing.

Her field hockey teammate Brittany McConnell also impressed with her play against the Lions. Whenever Warhill retook possession, it was McConnell chasing down the player which led to some errant passes and turnovers committed.

In fact, it was McConnell's work-rate which directly led to Hopewell taking away possession before Gray fired a through-ball to McComber for the Blue Devils' lone tally of the game. It was the epitome of the the type of performance a coach expects out of a senior player which will surely help lead this team to success at the later stages of the season.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot

"That's why we have her in the midfield," Michalek said of McConnell's ability to force turnovers. "She's a leader for us, she's going to repossess the ball and she's going to pressure up top."

Yet, no Hopewell player had a better game than Haley Hemphill in goal as she filled in for the injured Taylor Henderson.

While the scoreboard at the end of the game surely did not show the type of game she had, it did not go unnoticed by her coach. Hemphill showed good instincts by coming out of goal to stop scoring chances while being under siege for much of the night.

In fact, Warhill fired an absurd 35 shots at net of which Hemphill was able to record 17 saves on. And the junior could have had even more if the back-line could have cleared some chances off the line. Three goals specifically were scored after Hemphill denied one opportunity before a rebound found net.

It was one of the pluses for the Lady Blue Devils in a game where there were a lot more than showed itself on the board. Last week, Hopewell did not record a single shot on net while against Warhill there was five.

Additionally, there could have been a handful of more scoring chances had Hopewell showed a better touch with some of their passes. Maddy Smith found herself in behind the defense on three different occasions while Letty Jimenez and Gray each had separate breakaways of their own.

After weeks of practice and a scrimmage game, the type of counter-attack system Michalek wanted to see her team play finally was displayed on the field, making it another example of how quick her team is learning at practice.

"I've been really proud of them because they are very fast learners," Michalek said. "That's one of the things that I really love about the girls I have on the team this year. They're fast learners and they listen well, so I'm looking forward to continue to work on the midfield, that's been our focus the past couple of weeks, to build forward."

If the midfield continues to improve over the next few games, specifically on their touch in the final third, Hopewell should be tallying more goals in the coming games as the program continues to built piece-by-piece.

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