AMBLER — A high school sports season can be draining on a team’s starters.
So, any chance to get key players rest is always appreciated by coaches. When that chance also allows a coach the opportunity to reward the reserves and young players for their hard work with playing time, it’s an added bonus.
Tuesday, Gwynedd Mercy Academy’s girls’ soccer team got the best of both.
GMA throttled visiting Merion Mercy Academy 8-0, scoring all eight goals within the first 20 minutes. As a result, plenty of players saw the field, with six making their varsity debuts.
“We got a chance to get some starters rested and we have a long week,’ GMA coach Steve Whitby said. “Once we got into a flow there over the first five or 10 minutes and started speading the field out, I think we had our way.’
Captain Emily Sullivan got the scoring started with a strike from distance at the 35:49 mark of the first half. Sullivan would finish the game with a very unique stat line of the game-winning goal, one shot on net and one save, playing 20 minutes of the second half at goalkeeper.
Gwynedd Mercy has fallen into a routine of playing too narrow at times this season, but Tuesday was much the opposite. After Sullivan’s strike, GMA played much looser and the ball kept finding its way out to the wings.
Just 46 seconds after the opener, GMA scored again, this time as the result of some hustle by freshman Carly Heinman.
“I just had faith in my teammates that they would get it to the corner and I know when I get it, it’s my job to get over for someone to finish,’ Heinman said.
After chasing a heavy through ball all the way to the endline, Heinman sent a picture-perfect cross in that Meghan Corso fired into the net. Heinman is usually a defender, but started as a wide midfielder and finished with two assists before dropping into the back to close out the game.
Margaret Cameron scored the next goal when she forced the ball in after a scramble in front of the net and the junior would add a second goal with 25:33 to go when she dribbled down the left flank and fired an impressive volley to the far post.
Heinman’s second assist led to the fourth goal when another cross off the right found senior Margaret Jones. Shea Tomlinson made it 5-0 when she latched on to a through ball by Corso, took a touch in and fired past the keeper.
Angela Quaglia scored the seventh goal when her shot was mishandled by the keeper after a shot from outside the box. Susan Bailey capped the scoring when an opposite field cross by Bridget Morrisey found Bailey on the far post for an easy shot.
“Sometimes we get caught playing too narrow, so this was a good chance to work on that,’ Whitby said. “And we were able to get some players who hadn’t been getting a lot of playing time in there and get some rest in the second half.’
Sometimes, there’s nothing better than a live game to demonstrate a tactic or work out an idea. That was part of the reason Sullivan reported in as a substitute donned in a red pinnie with about 25 minutes to go.
Technically the team’s third keeper, Sullivan doesn’t have a pair of goalkeeper gloves, so she went in net without them. But as the starting central midfielder, her footwork is beyond sound, so Whitby wanted to show his other keepers about distribution out of the back.
“I was shocked and a little nervous because I don’t usually play goal,’ Sullivan said. “I don’t even have any gloves.’
Even with their starting midfielder in net, the backline didn’t hesitate to play the ball back on the ground, meaning Sullivan would have to play it with her feet.
“I didn’t hesitate, I trust her all the way,’ Heinman, who had dropped to center back by then, said. “She’s our central midfielder so her footwork is always good.’
As Whitby emptied the bench and started going into the JV reserves, the level of play didn’t drop off. While GMA wasn’t pressing the issue much in the final third, the players on the field were able to keep the ball and continue to connect passes.
“Everyone that came in did really well for us,’ Sullivan noted.
Whitby said the team never prepares for a result like Tuesday’s, but added his team has been playing well in recent weeks.
His reserve players are plenty capable, it was just a shame some of their parents had to miss their first varsity appearances.
“We train hard,’ Whitby said. “We have the quality secondary players that train hard and who are willing to work hard to make our starters even better and challenge them. In some cases, some of our starters are being challenged for playing time and that’s what we want out of this program.