TOWNVILLE — It didn’t take a real thorough examination of the two teams’ rosters to see that the Eisenhower girls soccer team was a good bit older and more experienced than its Region 3 opponent on Monday, Maplewood.
That was clear just by glancing out onto the pitch to see that one side (Eisenhower) was physically larger than the other (Maplewood) at virtually every position.
The Knights would be able to exploit that size advantage, using their longer limbs for faster runs and higher jumps than their younger, more diminutive opponents.
Those advantages had the Knights out to a 3-0 lead over the Tigers within the first 10 minutes of the game.
However, Maplewood head coach Ted Eriksen was encouraged by the fact that his crew — despite starting just one senior and one junior — didn’t spend the entire afternoon getting pushed around by their bigger counterparts.
The Tigers played them fairly even the rest of the way, ultimately yielding a 4-0 victory to the Knights.
“I’m disappointed in certain five-minute stretches of the game,” said Eriksen, whose team is off to an 0-2 start to the season, 0-1 in Region 3
“We didn’t have a very good start. We are a very, very young team. I think the girls have the talent and have the skill. And they’ve played a lot for us in our feeder program.
“But they just lack some emotion when they first get out on the field,” Eriksen said. “It takes them a little while to get into the game.”
On the other hand, Eisenhower (2-1, 1-0 Region 3) had no such issue. The Knights have been here many times before, boasting seven seniors and eight juniors on this year’s squad.
“They’ve been around, playing for awhile,” said Knights head coach Diana Elmquist. “I think they came out and played well. We got a win, so we’re happy about that.
“But there is still some improvement to be had there. Like, we got a little frantic there in the middle of the game. And I think we need to keep together and make some passes and some connections and we’ll be in a better position going forward.”
The Knights had little trouble connecting at the start of game. Just two minutes in, Eisenhower’s senior Patricia Bortz got the ball deep into Maplewood’s penalty area and slotted it into the upper-left corner to put Ike on the board.
A little more than three minutes later, Eisenhower had an corner kick. Junior Ellie Strausser booted it in front of the Tigers’ goal. It eventually bounced off one of the Tigers’ defenders and into the net for an own goal.
And then four minutes after that, Eisenhower got a good forward rush into the penalty box. Junior Leah Peterson crossed the ball over to freshman teammate Cassie Smelko, who chested it past Maplewood goalie Natalie Slagle to make it a 3-0 game.
After that opening flurry, however, Maplewood got engaged.
The Tigers began spending a little more time on the other side of midfield, putting together some promising approaches toward the Knights’ goal.
Once there, however, then Maplewood had to deal with a pretty stout defense for Eisenhower, led by an active center-back in senior Rachel Frederick, who entangled several Maplewood attackers during the contest.
“She’s been playing for four years and does really well for us in that position, maintaining the back line and keeping everybody holding a nice line,” said Elmquist.
As such, Maplewood was never able to really square-up on the ball. The Tigers got a few corner kicks that never developed. They had five shots on goal that were easily handled by senior keeper Faith Johnson. And ‘Wood’s best shot of the day, taken about 15 yards out by sophomore McKenzie Means, ricocheted off the crossbar.
“We had our opportunities that we didn’t finish on,” said Eriksen. “Hitting crossbars and not quite pulling the trigger fast enough. We had three good breakaways that we probably should have scored on.
“But, again, that’s the composure of, a lot of times, young players. They rush things a little too much, shoot a little too hard when they don’t have to, those sort of things.
“Individually, there were a lot of players I was very happy with, that are trying really hard to do the things that we’ve practiced. I can’t fault the effort of most of the players. They ran their legs off and worker very, very hard. It’s just, now they have to learn to work a little smarter.”
The first half ended with Eisenhower up 3-0. The Knights then made it 4-0 just three minutes into the second half as Smelko registered her second goal of the game, toeing the ball past Slagle from point-blank range.
Yet, that would be it for the scoring on both ends. Eisenhower had a handful more tries at Maplewood’s net. But Slagle turned them away, finishing the day with 18 saves.
The Tigers would also come up with a few more opportunities on offense, but nothing came out of it.
“They’re getting there,” said Eriksen. “I think they’re going to develop well over the course of the season. They just need to work on being more connected. That’s hard with young players. It’s not one or two good passes and done. They have to learn better movement off the ball and how to stay involved with the play. That just comes with practice and experience.
“We’ll get them there.”