by Tom Utescher
It’s not an uncommon soccer scenario. Late in a game, a team trailing by a single point gambles by pushing additional players into the offensive end of the field in an attempt to score the tying goal. In doing so, it increases its exposure on defense, and the leading team is able to score an insurance goal that pretty much salts the game away.
That’s what happened to the women of Chestnut Hill College in a conference contest last Saturday. In a bi-coastal offensive effort, the visiting Caldwell College Cougars had Californian Sarina Soriano score little more than 10 minutes into the action, then reinforced their lead with less than seven minutes remaining, thanks to homegrown Jersey girl Emily Valerian.
Caldwell, located about 10 miles from Newark, had its lady booters improve to 7-6-1 overall and 6-1-1 within the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference. The CHC Griffins have been up and down, starting out 3-1 but then struggling as they got into the thick of the conference schedule, dropping five straight games in the second half of September.
They broke that string of loses in their first game of October, notching a 3-1 win over a Dominican College team that includes senior Jamie McGinn out of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. CHC then tied another conference rival immediately before last weekend’s setback, which gave the Griffins a mark of 2-6-1 in the CACC, and 4-7-1 overall.
Chestnut Hill has a former area high school player on its roster in Julia Casasanto, a sophomore from Penn Charter. She is just getting permission to return to action following a concussion earlier in the season.
For much of last Saturday’s contest, the play in the middle of the field didn’t reflect the fact that Caldwell outshot the home team 27-9 for the afternoon.
“A lot of the games we’ve lost have been winnable,” stated Sandy Dickson, who is now in her fifth season as head coach of the Griffins. “Between the 18-yard lines, we’re good; the play in the final third is what we don’t have right now.”
Despite the wide disparity in shots last Saturday, CHC had the same number of corner kick opportunities as the visitors.
“Our senior who takes the corners, Danielle Spinuzza, puts a brilliant ball in there every time,” said Dickson. “We just need someone to step up and finish.”
Caldwell converted off of its first corner after having most of its early shots from scrimmage saved by Chestnut Hill’s senior goalie, Kayla Reno (11 saves total). Caldwell’s Kelly Folk sent across the corner kick to set up the strike by fellow senior Soriano, who put the Cougars ahead with 10 minutes and 40 seconds gone.
The Griffins roamed up and down most of the field, but for them it seemed like Caldwell’s 18 was a sturdy wall instead of a line marked on the turf. They got off two shots in the opening half, both in the last five minutes. Still, they only trailed 1-0 at the break.
As much as they struggled up top, for most of the second half the locals were able to stay within one point of the leaders with their defensive play, and also by logging a certain amount of ball possession time to keep it away from Caldwell.
Dickson remarked, “We’ve stressed taking care of the ball and being a more possession oriented team, and certainly from last year to this year we’ve turned that around.”
The coach liked what she’s seen from some young players, such as freshmen Molly Sullivan and Marykate O’Toole.
“Sullivan’s a tall kid who’s been pretty consistent for us in the back, and O’Toole is a kid from Archbishop Ryan who is much smaller but is just tough as nails,” the Griffins’ skipper said.
Near the end of the game the Griffins became more aggressive in their pursuit of a tying goal, firing five of their nine total shots in the last 10 minutes. However, in the midst of these attempts the Cougars made a brief but effective trip to CHC’s end of the field, and with about six-and-a-half minutes to go Valerian scored the visitors’ second goal with an assist from fellow freshman Jessica LaConde.
Dickson noted, “We may not have more wins than last year, but we’re definitely more competitive than we were. We’ve got more size, and we’re more athletic.”
The coach feels these last two qualities are important as the overall level of play in the CACC improves.
“I think there’s a little more parity in our conference than there has been,” she said. “A number of teams are capable of winning it.”