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All-Delco Girls Soccer: King’s game traveled far beyond scoring goals

NETHER PROVIDENCE >> Lizzie King’s wistful tone quickly evaporates, the focused cadence she uses to discuss soccer replacing it.

King recalls a trip last spring to Spain as a member of the Region 1 Olympic Development Program, venturing to Madrid, Barcelona and a quick stopover in France. The team-bonding, the touristy stops, celebrating Easter in a foreign country, those highlights elicit warm memories.

Strath Haven’s Lizzie King is the 2016 Daily Times Girls Soccer Player of the Year. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

But when the subject turns to the soccer, King turns serious. Playing professionals, some a decade her senior, was an eye-opening experience. The immersion in a new soccer style, with Spain’s characteristic emphasis on passing and technical skill as opposed to America’s speed and strength, was the most revelatory for the Strath Haven forward.

“I don’t know if I reflected that when I played this year,” King said last week, “but it definitely gave me a different perspective and a different way to learn the game.”

Intentional or not, King’s maturation this fall demonstrated how deeply she took those lessons to heart. After two years building a reputation as one of the area’s most fearsome strikers, King took stock of the squad around her and divined that for the Panthers to achieve their goals, her efforts would be best allocated in more diverse ways. Instead of creating goals exclusively for herself, King became the provider this season, generating chances for others in what became a robust Strath Haven attack.

King’s reward, to complement a second straight Central League title, is a second consecutive Daily Times Girls Soccer Player of the Year Award.

Joining King on the first team are two players each from Haverford (Brianna Blair and Amelia Durfee), Episcopal Academy (Morgan Messner and Lilly Shaner) and Penncrest (Gia Martyn and Carly Dunford). Rounding out the squad is Archbishop Carroll’s Bella Sorrentino, Garnet Valley’s Gia Dragoni, Radnor’s Maura Holst, Delco Christian’s Alex Thompson and Christian Academy’s Lindsay Haseltine.

Holst and King are the only repeat selections, Holst for a second time and King a third. (There’s a notable caveat borne of injuries: Garnet Valley’s Britney Dragoni, a two-time pick, missed the season with a knee injury, while EA’s Molly O’Brien was limited to nine games, sufficient for the 2015 All-Delco to earn a second-team nod.)

Nine of the honorees are seniors, with Gia Dragoni and Dunford sophomores and Messner the lone junior. The All-Delco team is selected in consultation with area coaches.

READ: The All-Delco first team capsules

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Individually, King understood what to expect as a senior. She’d long since shed the element of surprise, her burst of speed, instinctive and incisive runs between defenders and deadly finishing headlining every opponent’s scouting report. As a junior, she’d become resigned to man-marking every time out, a central defender for her shadow and a deep-lying midfielder bracketing over top.

She also understood the changes occurring within the Panthers. Gone was the senior-laden midfield contingent from 2015. In their stead stepped talented youngsters, reinforced by veterans drawn from elsewhere on the field (Maddie Forbes from the wing, Claire Van Duyne from center back).

A trip overseas allowed Strath Haven’s Lizzie King to broaden her soccer horizon, transforming the senior from a feared goal-scorer to an all-around threat for the Central League champion Panthers. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

Those adjustments — which King labels as “not better or worse, just different” — triggered a change in her approach.

“Of course I wanted to score a lot of goals and help win as many games as possible, but my goal was really to make sure the team was successful,” she said. “Goal-scoring wasn’t my main thing, once I kind of figured out how our team needed to work.”

King’s adaptation required a lot of savvy and a little humility. When coach Gino Miraglia talked with King in the preseason, the striker set her objective at a school record for goals, set by 1997 Daily Times Player of the Year Kim King (no relation) at 34.

READ: Full list of All-Delco honorees

Two games in, when King stood with just one goal but four assists, she corrected course.

“Right then and there, we told her it’s not about that record,” Miraglia said. “And she was on board right away.”

King’s nose for goal eventually caught up, yielding 13 goals and 12 assists in 19 games as the Panthers captured their sixth Central League title in seven years.

But more impressive was how King provided the impetus to that success. Miraglia hails King for her insatiable tactical curiosity on both sides of the ball, from serving as the Panthers’ first line of defense with high pressure to sharpening her passing outlook.

King’s gravity distorts opponents’ shapes to such a degree that Miraglia started designing what he calls almost set plays around King. Those templates — how to move when King tracks back into midfield, dragging defenders along, or identifying space freed when King flashes wide — informed the prolific attack, with King the cause to many of the Panthers’ goalscoring effects

The Panthers scored 53 goals, an average of nearly three per game. Morgan Crain scored 12 times, Margot Hotham added eight and Forbes paired seven with four helpers. The common thread was King’s influence, seen and unseen.

“I think the hardest change was with me,” King said. “I was so accustomed to scoring goals. … I never really got out of that mindset, but once I kind of also got used to changing my way of attack, everything else was set.”

Recognition has flowed her way, as well. King committed to the admissions process at Swarthmore, waiting to hear later this month. The National Soccer Coaches Association recognized her as one of 57 high school All-Americans nationally in the fall, just five from Pennsylvania.

Still, a pang of longing lingers. The league titles bring King joy, but the Panthers’ ouster in the second round of the District 1 Class 4A tournament still stings. Ever focused on the team aspect, King laments the district not getting to see what she knew her Panthers were capable of.

“It’s not disappointing because we did really well, we won our league,” she said. “Our class, when we stepped up a lot our junior and senior years, we won the league both years. We wish we could’ve gone farther. I think we didn’t really live up to our potential this year. I think we were a really, really good team this year, and kind of our last game didn’t show that.”

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