WHITEMARSH >> Through one half of play, the Germantown Academy girls soccer team had a lead on Springside Chestnut Hill but felt like it could be playing better.
So after the break, the Patriots started moving the ball around and moving around without the ball. All that running around tired them out and the more tired they got, the better they started to play.
Thanks to spells of crisp, sustained passing and couple of sharp, decisive balls forward, GA opened up and ran past SCH 5-1 in a PAISAA quarterfinal game Tuesday afternoon.
“We had more movement off the ball which helped and as we got more tired, it helped us in a way,” GA freshman midfielder Ally Clark said. “We stopped dribbling it and giving up the ball and just started playing feet.”
“We also started winning a ton of tackles,” sophomore striker Mac Pluck added. “Once there was more movement, we opened up pockets behind and with our speed up top, we could find those channels and get opportunities at goal.”
GA spent the first 20 or so minutes looking close to finding a rhythm, but a careless turnover or shot off target broke up those runs of possession. The Patriots got a break when captain Emmy Dolaway’s corner kick bent in, hit of the Chestnut Hill keeper and deflected into the net for a goal with 13:33 left in the opening half.
As GA started to get into more of a flow, Clark opened up some breathing room with a long run through the center of the pitch and a composed finish inside the post with 9:13 until the half. The set-up to the goal was an indicator of what was to come after halftime. With the backs playing the ball horizontally, it rolled to captain Sophie Axenroth, who then made a quick and decisive pass up to Clark, who did the rest.
“We’d settle in the back, play someone in the midfield and then there would be someone running somewhere,” GA coach Chris Nelson said. “We did a really good job of finding them in the second half. We were more relaxed in the second half and Ally was right, we got a little tired and sometimes that helps because you’re not so inclined to overdo it.”
The movement, both of the ball and players off of it, started to manifest just before the break with an excellent sequence that nearly netted a third goal. GA kept knocking on the door to start the second half, with Annelise Peterson putting a header wide and a shot high off a great ball into the box.
Finally, that passing led to a breakthrough thanks to Pluck. Sophomore central mid Bailey Gilmore picked out the speedy Pluck and played her through where Pluck carried the rest of the way and finished with 29:38 left in the game.
Gilmore and Pluck connected again a few minutes later with a second assist coming from Dolaway. Dolaway won the ball and one-touched it out to Gilmore who crossed back in to Pluck, who volleyed the effort in with 23:5 to go.
“Everyone looks for each other on those runs and that’s sort of our specialty,” Pluck said. “We see those through balls. Everyone looks for those and we go forward.”
“Our coaches really elaborated on playing to feet because in the first half we were losing the ball a lot because we were dribbling too much,” Clark noted. “In the second half we played feet more.”
Clark, Gilmore and Brynn Skelly used their numbers in the middle of the field to full effect. All three were good at winning the ball whether it was in the air or off a second ball, and they got the team moving with a lot of quick balls up or out diagonally.
GA made it 5-0 with 18:01 left when Caroline Sloan was able to finish after a four-pass buildup involving her, Peterson and Skelly.
SCH pulled a goal back thanks to a class turn and finish by senior Meghan McCool. McCool, a resident of Glenside as well as a University of Virginia recruit and US U-17 National Team player, was otherwise mostly held in check by GA’s defenders.
Granted, McCool got plenty of shots and created plenty of looks, but the Patriots did well to limit them to distance or hurried strikes that the Devils senior couldn’t hit comfortably.
“We tried to cover more space,” Clark said of the defensive effort.
“They took on a lot of our backs one-on-one and our backs, especially our right back Nicole Marion, did a really good job of staying with Meghan McCool,” Pluck added. “She’s a really talented player so keeping their composure with her was a really good sign.”
Backing up the line of Marion, Axenroth, Dolaway and Rachel Villari was senior keeper Kat Stambaugh. Stambaugh recorded just two saves, but her communication was excellent and she controlled the airspace in her box despite giving up a few inches on some SCH players.
“She’s so vocal gives such specific directions,” Nelson said. “Those corner kicks are coming in right on top of her and you see her fist pop up six inches over everyone else’s head and away goes the ball. She’s a huge difference maker for us.”
The Patriots return to action Thursday when they host Westtown in the PAISAA semifinals. Pluck said the team’s passing comes and goes but she felt the added intensity of the playoffs would keep bringing it out of them and likewise with their willingness to win tackles.
“When we can spread out and move the ball like that, we’re really dangerous,” Nelson said. “Some days you finish and some you don’t. We’re really going to focus on that in practice, spread the ball around, keep it moving quickly, two or three touches, keep running, running, running and play consistent, solid defense.”
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