Multiple scorers make Eagles tough to defend

J. Patrick Eaken

The Eastwood girls soccer team finished their second straight perfect regular season and are ranked third in the Division III statewide coaches poll.
        Now 17-0, all’s that is left after winning a Northern Buckeye Conference championship is the tournament.
        Often, when you bring those kinds of accolades into a tournament game, a lesser team will put its entire team in the box trying to defend against any scores and see if they can force you into a scoreless tie, overtime, and penalty kicks. It has happened and teams have had success — kind of like a deliberate stall in basketball sometimes works.
        The other strategy that could work against Eastwood is seeing opponents double-team their best scorers. Coach Megan Rutherford is not too concerned with either.
        “We haven’t had anyone really try that yet,” Rutherford said. “I think it’s because we have so many goal scorers, so if they game plan around one person we have four more who can score. It’s pretty spread out. I have five girls with 12 or more goals, and one of them is a freshman who has 14 goals and nine assists. I mean, that is a pretty solid freshman year.”
        Sophomore midfielder Kenna Souder, a first team all-state selection as a freshman, leads the team in scoring with 30 goals and 14 assists, but five others are in double figures in goals scored.
        Sophomore midfielder/forward Aubrey Haas has 24 goals and eight assists, senior forward Raegan Delgado has 14 goals and four assists, freshman midfielder Hannah Montag has 14 goals and nine assists and sophomore midfielder Sydney Ameling has 12 goals and seven assists. In addition, sophomore midfielder Kaylynn Simon has six goals and 16 assists.
        If you’ve noticed, most of the players listed are sophomores, so Rutherford knew that she had a good team coming into the season.
        “I knew we’d have a good team, I knew had a lot of depth, I knew we had a lot of talent. It was just about making sure we put that talent together and make things happen,” Rutherford said.
        The fact that those freshmen are now sophomores is enough that Rutherford believes this team is more prepared and mature than last year’s.
        It showed in a 1-0 win over Liberty-Benton (14-1-1), ranked 11th in D-III and the team that ended Eastwood’s season last year. The two are on a collision course to meet again at this year’s regional tournament.
        “There is more discipline, more maturity — I mean, they have a year under their belts,” Rutherford said. “All the freshmen that were around during the regional semifinal game against Liberty-Benton have had that big game on the big stage under their belt, and we were able to put a pretty good 80-minute game together against Liberty-Benton this time around that we weren’t able to do last year with the youth.
        “All the freshmen are now sophomores and they have a full year under their belt and the juniors and seniors are doing a great job of leading the team. We have a good group of freshmen that came in again. We have a lot of depth and we wear teams down.”
        Just two days after beating L-B, the Eagles took a 3-0 lead over Lake (12-4-1), which is ranked in the Northwest District, in their final regular season and NBC game, and then held on for a 3-1 win.
        “We tried to use a lot more people because it was two days after Liberty-Benton and we were pretty tired. That was a pretty solid win on tired legs, that’s for sure,” Rutherford said.
        They had another close encounter with a ranked district team, Genoa (9-3-4), but got through it, defeating the Comets 3-2 in the season opener.
        “The only other close game that we had was our first game of the season against Genoa. We’ve had some come from behind wins. One game we were down 2-0 and then we came back and scored five goals,” Rutherford said.
        Goals are coming at such a rapid clip, averaging 6.8 per game.
        “We’re averaging close to seven goals a game and the teams against us are only averaging five shots, so we score more goals than teams even shoot against us,” Rutherford said.
        Junior goalkeeper Jaylee Souder has 49 saves on 64 shots for a 76.6 save percentage, allowing 15 goals through 17 games for an average of 0.83 per game. She has eight shutouts.
        It’s helped that her back line does not allow the ball to reach her very often. On defense, senior Raegan Stewart and freshman Kayden Firsdon lead the team in steals and interceptions.
        “It’s fantastic. We have a good goalie, Jaylee, who has only had to make 49 saves this year in 17 games,” Rutherford said. “That’s not a lot, but when she has to make a save she’s expected to come up big and she does. Our defense and midfield are solid and play at all-around high pressure, and we try to not to let teams get into our second half (defensive zone).”
        The only issue Rutherford might have is keeping her teams focused through the first couple tournament games against lesser seeds. She doesn’t see focus being an issue.
        “They are competitors. They want to win,” Rutherford said. “They will do anything to help each other be successful, help the team win. They are pretty bought in so it’s not hard to keep them focused. They are a little goofy at times, but you have to have balance. They just want to keep winning just one game at a time.
        “Every practice we get ready for the next game and our plan is to win that game. We’re going to do everything possible to get this team ready and for the players to get each other ready. I try never to predict anything because in soccer you never know what is going to happen.”


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