Redhawks' back line finds its groove vs. Geneva
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By Darryl Mellema
It's taken a bit of time for Naperville Central's reworked defense to gel this year, but the Redhawks found a good time to put things together – Saturday's finale of the St. Charles East Invitational.
The Redhawks defeated Geneva 3-1 to gain their first win after two losses in the four-team round-robin tournament. But the core of the team through the 80 minutes was the collective defensive efforts put forth by Sabrina Cisneros, Hanna Ralson, Alyssa Angelo, Amanda Alberts, and Carly Franzese, in front of goalkeeper Jill D'Amico.
“All three games, we gave up a goal,” Naperville Central coach Ed Watson said. “I really think we're the type of team that has to have zero on the board for the opponent. We're not there yet, but we're getting better. It took this tournament to settle in on our back four.”
Watson was pleased with the way his team settled defensively, especially after Maddie Thompson scored the first of her two goals in the match after 5 minutes, a lead the Redhawks never surrendered. That early goal certainly helped the Redhawks settle into the match.
“We hadn't done so well in the tournament and we really needed a win to build up our confidence again,” Thompson said. “An early goal helped give us that boost to keep going hard throughout the whole game.”
How reworked is the defense? Alyssa Angelo was a junior-varsity player when the season started. She was one of the team's stalwarts on Saturday.
“She's doing a great job back there,” Watson said. “It allows us to use the players we had back there at there originally in the midfield, where they need to play. Those five kids are going to have to figure how to play back there and we're going to go that way.”
It helps that the Redhawks have an experienced all-stater in D'Amico playing behind that back line. When the match was still 1-0, D'Amico came up with a pair of key saves to preserve the lead.
“She's really caught a bad break for us,” Watson said. “For a kid like that to have given up five goals in a week when we gave up eight last year – total. So this was a bad week for us defensively, as a group.”
That defense was tested as well. Geneva got back into the match when Rachel Hinchman scored with 9:10 to play. The Vikings surged at that point and Hinchman fed Demi Miller for a scoring chance with 2 minutes left. But the Redhawks kept the ball out of the back of their net.
“(Assistant coach Barry) Baldwin said 'there's a lot of time left' when the scored that first goal.” Watson said. “I know our defenders were tired, but they have to know they can't be putting the ball down like that.”
Naperville Central sealed the match with two goals in less than 1 minute late in the second half. Thompson scored the first on a long-range shot from the left wing. Veronica Ellis scored the second when she rose high and beat Geneva's goalkeeper to a left wing cross.
“Our coaches were talking at halftime that it was really important to get that 2-0 lead,” Thompson said. “It was a lot more relaxing for the team when we were 2-0.”
Thompson said the recent switch to a three-player front line is starting to be more comfortable.
“Instead of having more people in the middle, we have more people attacking,” Thompson said. “We're just trying really hard to get everyone in attacking and to score more goals because we've been struggling to score.”
Hinchman's goal was Geneva's first in the tournament after 0-0 matches with host St. Charles East and eventual tournament champion Schaumburg. But falling behind in the contest and then allowing three unanswered goals was too much for the Vikings.
“We were a little bit off today,” Geneva coach Megan Owens said. “With the ACT (test) and with three back-to-back games this week, I think it took a lot out of them. We played a little flat. But we're a young team and I think we walk away from today's game learning some important lessons.”
Geneva's defense is very young, with three freshmen – Molly Stanfa, Tory Herbst and Annie Waldoch combining with senior Demi Miller. As Geneva chased the game, Miller moved into an attacking midfield role.
“We fell asleep in the second half for a four-minute span and it would have been a much different game if we hadn't,” Owens said. “It took us until we scored to look alive and to play with some intensity. If we want to compete against the quality teams on our schedule, we can't wait until we put one in the back of the net to wake up.”
Hinchman's goal ended 250 scoreless minutes in the tournament for the Vikings.
“It was nice to score,” Owens said. “We're still working up top, changing our combinations to see what's going to work best. That's going to happen when you've got so many new faces.”
Geneva is back in action in a key Tuesday contest with St. Charles East, the teams' second meeting within a week. Tuesday's match, however, is an Upstate Eight Conference River match. Naperville Central hosts Wheaton Warrenville South on Monday in a massive DuPage Valley Conference match.