WHITEMARSH >> It was only an instant, but the image summed up the match pretty well.
In the second half, a Hatboro-Horsham player got the ball at her feet, turned and prepared to go at the goal. Standing in her way was a wall of at least six or seven red-and-blue clad Plymouth Whitemarsh defenders. The foray didn’t get very far, another defensive stand in a night full of them for the Colonials.
Tuesday night belonged to PW’s defenders, with center back Josee Tassoni heading home the winning goal less than a minute in and the back line locking it down the rest of the way in a 1-0 win over the visiting Hatters.
“We’re holding each other accountable,” Tassoni, a senior, said. “There’s not one distinct leader, we’re all stepping up as a whole. Everyone is talking to each other, we’re directing each other and no one is above another.”
Another defender, Gabby Cooper, provided the winning service off a 35-yard free kick in the first minute. The ball took a single bounce in the box, which gave Tassoni enough space to run onto it and head it home.
It was far from the only key header the senior, in her first year as a full-time varsity player, made during the game. She skied up to head out a Hatters corner late in the first half, then again cleared a corner with a header with 2:30 left in the match.
“Your head just connects with the ball,” PW sophomore center back Bella McNew, standing next to Tassoni, said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
During their interview, Tassoni and McNew played off each other about as well as they did during the match. With Cooper and freshman Kaitlyn Flanagan flanking them at fullback and sophomore Devon Skiles playing well in goal, the center back tandem led the defensive effort.
PW’s plan was to defend anyway, but coach Ryan Zehren said the early goal did change things up. Grabbing an early lead allowed the Colonials (5-4-0, 4-3-0 SOL American) to keeping their holding midfielders, including Natalie Lannie, Ashley Amon, Anni Shula and Catie Branscome, in the spaces in front of the back line.
“We watched some film on them and prepared ourselves, we had a film session today before the game and went over a lot of scenarios with the girls,” Zehren said. “They’re a very good team and very talented. We talked about (Hatters forwards Kara and Emily Thomas), they’re both solid and we focused on them and said we aren’t going to let them beat us.”
The Hatters (6-3-0, 5-2-0) controlled possession, corner kicks and shots, which was a given with the defensive shape the Colonials took after scoring, although PW did try to counter any time it was able to. PW doubled Kara and Emily Thomas anytime they touched the ball and outside of those two, the Colonials were able to mark up well whenever the Hatters played a ball into the box.
“I don’t think we were expecting them to score as quick as we did and we came out flat,” Hatters coach Kelsey Daley said. “We dominated play for most of the game, but they were playing seven in the back and we had to make changes. We had plenty of shots on net but we couldn’t get one of them to find the back of the goal.”
Daley felt there was a disconnect between her players on the field as the match went on. Even though the Hatters made some good tactical adjustments, they couldn’t connect a final ball and had some players pressing a bit to do too much with the ball.
Izzy de la Torre anchored the back end for the Hatters, preventing those PW counters from becoming dangerous and continually pushing the ball back upfield. Maggie O’Neill and Mads Falcione also brought a strong work rate to the pitch for HH, attacking defenders and playing balls into the box over and over.
“I think they got defeated a little bit, some girls were playing tougher than others, we really weren’t playing as a team tonight,” Daley said. “That second ball just wasn’t there for us. This team, we need to be more confident in each other, it’s definitely there and this team can bounce back.”
Skiles was very strong at the back for PW, making seven saves and a tremendous play in the final minutes where she sped off her line, slid and gathered the ball off the foot of a charging Hatters forward to stuff a dangerous chance. Branscome was a tackling machine in the midfield as well, and McNew was a presence for all 80 minutes.
“You have to stay composed,” McNew said. “You just have to keep talking to each other, stay calm, keep on the same page and just go from there.
“When in doubt, just drop and get yourself back in that box.”
McNew said there was a lot that went into the shutout, from marking up top to cutting off passing lanes and notably winning a lot of aerial challenges.
PW’s defense has been the constant all fall, even after losing projected starter Ava Schreiber to an injury prior to the season. Still, they hadn’t been able to find that breakthrough result and the Colonials hoped Tuesday’s effort could be that spark.
“We were really close with Upper Dublin and Abington, even though the score didn’t show it, so this will make us work that much harder,” Tassoni said. “We have to put our heads down, keep working and keep this feel going. It’s going to push us to the next level.”
PLYMOUTH WHITEMARSH 1, HATBORO-HORSHAM 0
HATBORO-HORSHAM 0 0 – 0
PLYMOUTH WHITEMARSH 1 0 – 1
Goals: PW – Josee Tassoni (Gabby Cooper). Shots: PW – 3, HH – 7. Corners: PW – 0, HH – 6. Saves: PW – Devon Skiles 7, HH – Martine Royds 2.
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