by JACKIE HOLLAND-DECKER and IAN PURVIS
If the Rockford girls varsity soccer team’s defense was a welcoming committee, the reception last week would have been as cold as the weather.
The Rams’ stingy backfield allowed no goals to be scored against them in the second week of play. Goalie Kristin Darby-assisted by the four diamond defense of Kayla Knoll, Lyndsey Hutchings, Celine Stalmer and Sam Decker, with help from the midfield and even the forwards-kept non-league foes Cedar Spring and Forest Hills Eastern (FHE) out of the net.
“We can play defense all over the field,” said Coach Amira Ponne about the 0-0 tie against FHE Friday night. “Our whole team played defense and that kept them from scoring goals. They are a great team, but we kept our composure and didn’t let them score. Kayla Knoll was amazing. If not for her, they would have had a couple of goals. Sydney Benda did a great job of marking number three.”
Going into the game, Ponne knew the host Hawks would be a foe of concern. Having played against them last year at the junior varsity level when she coached Rockford’s JV, she said, “We were evenly matched, and I remembered they had a lot of small, quick girls. Defending that can be a difficulty. I knew it could be anybody’s game. In the first half, they definitely took our key players out of the game,” adding that the Hawks communicated and passed well, forcing the Rams to chase after them. Her talk at halftime sparked a better second half.
“We made some adjustments and possessed the ball longer in the second half,” added Ponne.
Darby, in her fourth year in the net for the Rams, had a big night against the host Hawks as well. She had 15 saves, including one head-to-head collision with FHE’ Morgan Behm, who chipped a tooth from the impact. The Rams’ offense didn’t put too much pressure on FHE’s goalie Michelle Marcus, however, making only seven shots on goal, none of them threatening.
“We didn’t get very good shots off, and their sweeper [junior Ann Kennedy] was amazing,” Ponne said.
Against the Red Hawks, the Rams got off to a slow start. However, Ponne said of the second half, “We came out and played soccer the way it has to be played.” “It was obvious we were more skilled, but they were the never-give-up, harder workers.”
The Rams controlled most of the game, but the Red Hawks’ defense, playing a flat back four, blocked repeated attacks until Decker drove up the field to the end line early in the second half, cut inside a covering defender, and dropped a pass back to Brittani Pierce on the 18-yard line. Pierce powered the ball into the net with a strong left foot beneath Cedar Spring’s diving keeper Sara Sowerwine.
The Rams nearly conceded a soft goal in the opening minute, but Darby saved the header. Beth Yokom and Jessica Miller led the Cedar attack and always looked dangerous, but the Rams’ back line kept them at bay.