Scoring no goals in three games isn’t exactly how you’d prefer a season to start, especially for an APSU team who has intentions of competing at the top of the Ohio Valley Conference.
But that streak came to an end for the Lady Govs as they played host to Chattanooga in their home opener from Morgan Brothers Field on Sunday.
APSU stormed out of the gates early against the Mocs, scoring in just nine minutes for the first goal of the season, and added four more en route to a 5-2 victory. The Lady Govs have now defeated Chattanooga in five consecutive chances, with Sunday’s contest becoming the highest scoring match between the two sides in the last five years.
Here are five things to take away from the win.
Monger proving herself quite well
Last season, forward Merritt Monger played in just six games, attempting three goals in her short time on the pitch. Much of that could be the fact Tatiana Ariza hardly ever moved her attacking position, but the all-time leading scorer is gone, giving Monger a chance have more opportunities.
Monger came off the bench late in the first period, and made an immediate impact by finding room off an assist from Alyssa Plowman to find the back of the net. Three minutes later, Monger was fouled inside the box, and though she doesn’t always have the confidence in herself on penalty kicks, she put it past the keeper for her second goal.
Head coach Kelley Guth said she couldn’t ask for anything more from her as Monger continues to put in work to earn minutes.
“It’s kinda like I’m a freshman even though I’m a sophomore,” Monger said. “I didn’t get much playing time last year, so I have to work a little bit harder and prove that I can be out on the field with everybody else.”
If she keeps this pace up, Monger will continue to be a good substitution to provide scoring chances.
Young attackers have potential
I mentioned Ariza, and while it’s nearly impossible to replace her production, a good start is developing young players who are already starting games.
Just look at the shot difference, with APSU holding a 25-10 advantage in that category.
Kirstin Robertson has started all four games for the Lady Govs as a freshman forward, and tallied her first collegiate goal on Sunday to put the game out of reach. After doubting herself to begin the season, the goal allowed the newcomer to relax and have much more confidence.
“The first couple of games with the team I was really nervous, I mean, first year and everything, but I think this game we finally started coming together and made combinations,” Robertson said. “It definitely felt good to get that first one in.”
A few practices of working on forward combinations helped tremendously, according to Robertson, and it paid off. Another freshman, Caroline Wistrom, also scored her first collegiate goal, and two of the three assists in the game came from a sophomore, Alyssa Plowman, and freshman, Sophia Fabbro.
“I told them I’m a stickler and wish we could have opened them up a little more, but scoring five goals in a game is not a poor day offensively,” Guth said. “We’ve got some young freshmen playing up top that we’re going to count on to be those types of players for us.”
Defending still a work in progress
A week before the exhibition matches started, Coach Guth stressed the importance of finding girls best suited to play on the back line.
The Lady Govs had previously allowed eight goals in two exhibition and one regular season match. It appeared as if things were headed downhill as the Moc scored two goals in the first period, but the defending improved as the game progressed.
Much of that can be attributed to controlling the ball better in the midfield, which is just as important as defending inside the box. Senior Claire Pultz, who scored in the eighth minute, is the only experienced player on the back line. The other three spots have been held by Natalie Smith, Taylor Van Wagner, and Mallory Burman. Smith and Van Wagner played in just seven games combined in 2013, while Burman is starting as a freshman.
It’s a work in progress, but Guth likes the steps being taken in that area.
“I’ve been pleased with our progress so far,” she said. “If we can possess the ball better, we don’t have to defend as much, so we have to work on that as far as keeping possession. Defensively, I thought we worked hard and stayed pretty organized. We gave up two goals, and I’m not happy about that, but we’ll review those on film and find ways to minimize those opportunities in the future.”
Team chemistry is building
With 10 freshmen on the roster, building chemistry between lower and upperclassman is crucial for APSU.
The entire team has spent less than a month with each other, although Robertson said it feels like she’s known the other girls for years. Merritt is also seeing the team come together as one, so that’s definitely a positive sign after four games.
“It’s nice to see us start to develop that chemistry on the field,” Guth said. “There’s a lot of new faces out there getting a lot of playing time, and we just haven’t had that development of the chemistry quite yet. I think today was the first indicator for us where we started to connect passes and be on the same page.”
OVC play starts in one month, so it will need to continue before the big games arrive.
Crimson Tide rolls in next
Speaking of big games…
Even though it’s not a conference match, anytime a team from the SEC is on the schedule, it’s a big deal. For 2014, Guth purposely scheduled Kentucky, whom they lost to 0-5, Alabama, and Ole Miss. Oh, and the best part? Two of the three are at home, and are sure to draw a similar crowd as Sunday.
Alabama will be in town on Friday, Aug. 29, and will provide the Lady Govs with a tough test. Despite a poor record of 6-12 a year ago, expect a fast, physical team when the Tide come rolling in on the heels of a loss to Memphis.
“That’s a little nerve wracking,” Monger said on playing Alabama. “I’ve watched them play on TV all the time, because I’m from Knoxville, I would go to UT games and watch Alabama play. It’s a little bit intimidating, but I think our team chemistry is building since this was our first home game.”
Photo: APSU’s team captains (Shelby Olszewski, Claire Pultz, and Gina Fabbro) meet with officials (Corey Adams/The All State)