LOWER GWYNEDD >> It’s not the first ball, but the second and third balls that matter.
It’s easy to get a head or foot on the first ball, but to really win it and take control means putting in a little extra work with a little extra risk on that 50/50 ball. For the majority of the afternoon on Tuesday, Wissahickon senior Rachel Coleman was doing all that and more as she continued to win balls and disrupt Upper Dublin’s forays forward.
Backed by a second-half brace from Maddie Elwell, Wissahickon dispatched the Cardinals 3-1 in a back-and-forth game that came down to execution.
“We’ve been working in practice on winning 50/50 balls and making sure we’re talking to each other and working on our triangles,” Coleman, a defensive midfielder, said. “Today we were able to execute that perfectly as a team.”
The Trojans (3-1-0, 2-1-0 SOL American) got on the board first when a cross from Elwell off the left wing skipped through the Upper Dublin (1-2-0, 1-2-0) box and found its way to Alexis Smith, who volleyed her shot home with 24:11 left in the first period. It was the kind of start Wissahickon had been looking for after last week, but their zest faded a bit late in the half as Upper Dublin seized momentum.
After peppering the goal, the Cardinals finally broke through when sophomore forward Sizzy Lawton dribbled into the box, touched around Wiss keeper Nicole Hastings and scored on a composed finish to knot it 1-1 with 8:58 left in the half. It was mostly thanks to Hastings, who ended up with seven saves, that the Trojans were able to slink into the half and regroup.
“Like we’d expect, this game was back-and-forth and toward the end, I think we lost some legs and weren’t doing the things we were trying to do early in the game,” Cardinals coach John Topper said. “The story of this game was execution. Both teams had some pretty clear chances in front of the net and Wissahickon was more clinical in the box.”
It didn’t take Wiss long to regain its tempo. Elwell, a Vanderbilt recruit, drove down the left side, cut into the box and finished from a very tight angle with 36:11 left for the eventual game-winner. The senior added a second strike with 16:53 left when she received a pass from Sam Comonitski just inside the box, turned and snapped off a precise shot inside the post.
Elwell, who now has five goals in four games, has been more of a scoring threat this season with Tuesday marking her second two-goal game of the season. But her scoring isn’t coming from her doing more, instead its coming from giving the ball up.
“The goals come from not keeping the ball yourself,” Elwell said. “You’re playing the balls to players and playing to combinations with passes and the ball is moving that much easier so if you get it in the right place and have the opportunity to shoot, you have it. If not, then this year, I find it so much easier to lay it off to a center mid or a defender for a shot and the goals will come.”
GIRLS SOCCER 36:11 2nd half: Wissahickon 2, Upper Dublin 1
Maddie Elwell on a solo run and finish pic.twitter.com/sMR5d6LGJL
— Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3) September 13, 2016
Wissahickon certainly kept UD keeper Devon Jones busy, but she was up to task, making nine stops on 12 Trojan shots, denying Elwell and Wiss senior midfielder Emily Vervlied, who also had a strong performance, a couple of times. Topper noted his keeper’s play and said the goals weren’t so much her fault as it was the defense leaving Jones in tough spots.
Hastings had one of the moments of the match herself late in the second half when Upper Dublin’s Tori Hoffner broke through and two shots denied by the Trojans’ goalkeeper. Able to only parry the first shot, which rebounded back to Hoffner, Hastings recovered enough to palm the second effort away a few minutes before Elwell’s second goal.
“That was the start of a second wind for us,” Elwell said. “It let us keep up the intensity because we knew if we could stop that, then we could win the game.”
Upper Dublin’s speed did cause trouble for the Wissahickon defense with Lawton, Hoffner, Tina Haig and Priya Kaneria all showing an ability to slip behind the defense. Additionally, the Cardinals played a lot of balls out wide to speed then came back in to generate their chances.
“We expected that they would have speed up top,” Coleman said. “But we were able to prepare for that ahead of time.”
“We had a couple issues with it in the first half, especially our stepping because if you miss one thing, they’re so fast that they’ll be on the ball,” Elwell said. “A big thing is just communicating with the back line making sure our positioning is right and the center mids dropping back and covering the outlet players who are feeding the speedy people up top.”
Upper Dublin has a quick turnaround, facing Plymouth-Whitemarsh on Wednesday while Wissahickon faces SOL American newcomer Hatboro-Horsham on Thursday.
Just like it’s not about the first ball, the Trojans aren’t where they want to be yet. With a sizable group of key seniors, their eyes are on improving by the end of the season and getting into the playoffs.
“Our goal is to win the conference if we can,” Coleman said. “We have some new teams in the conference, so we have to adjust to that, see how they play and what we can do to end up on top ultimately.”
Wissahickon 3, Upper Dublin 1
Upper Dublin 1 0 — 1
Wissahickon 1 2 — 3
Goals: UD – Sizzy Lawton 31’; W – Alexis Smith (Maddie Elwell) 16’, Maddie Elwell 44’, Maddie Elwell (Sam Comonitski) 64’. Shots: UD – 8, W- 12. Corners: UD – 4, W – 1. Saves: UD – Devon Jones 9, W- Nicole Hastings 7.
Top Photo: Wissahickon’s Rachel Coleman fights for the ball during the Trojans’ game against Upper Dublin on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. (Jeff Davis/For Digital First Media)