BRANDON — Back on Sept. 27 in North Clarendon, the Mill River Union High School girls’ soccer team ripped off five straight goals in a 6-2 win over Otter Valley.
It was different on Monday on Markowski Field, where the improving Otters outshot the Minutemen, 28-19, in a 1-1 stalemate.
The Otters are still just 2-8-1, comparable to their records over the past few years, but senior leading scorer Lauren Nesshoever said that record does not reflect the quality of their play.
On Monday they won 50-50 balls, passed crisply and clearly earned more territory than the Minutemen, reflecting what Nesshoever said is a trend in 2012 — the Otters are playing better soccer.
Now she only wishes she could keep playing with them beyond what has been an enjoyable season.
“I think we’ve grown up. We used to just play kick and run, and now we’re trying to use our team instead of just try to send it to the three people up top, which is just awesome, because we’re maturing,” Nesshoever said. “It stinks because I’m a senior. I think next year they’re going to be just as good, because they have some good girls coming up.”
Coach Dave Brown credited the Otters for their focus on improving basic skills and tactics, something MRU coach David Carr complemented Brown on after the game.
“That was our goal right off the bat this year,” Brown said. “We can’t go anywhere unless we possess the ball. We can’t move up the field if we can’t make passes. So this year was just work on the fundamentals, and we look good, and I’m proud.”
For a stretch in the first half, MRU (4-6-1) looked like it was ready to take control. Speedy forwards Ellie Hasenohr and Kyle Weatherhogg and clever midfielder Sarah Socia were causing problems for OV junior sweeper Michelle Maseroni and flank backs Hannah Lones, a senior, and Brianna Hedding, a junior.
MRU earned five corner kicks between the ninth and 19th minutes and scored on the first one. MRU launched three shots, one saved by Hedding at the left post and one blocked by OV keeper Courtney Poljacik (nine saves). The ball bounced to Robyn Shapiro off the left post, and she tapped it home.
OV held afterward: Junior stopper Brandi Heath and senior center middie Kayla Zsido helped defend the other corner kicks, and Poljacik stopped a Weatherhogg breakaway in the 22nd minute. And then the tide began to turn.
Zsido, OV junior center middie Savannah Lynch, and Heath began to win balls and make runs in the middle, while speedy and physical junior left middie Jess Frazier and clever freshman middie Lexi Hedding on the right started to assert themselves. That meant the dangerous OV strikers, Nesshoever and ball-winning junior Taylor Aines, began to become more involved.
MRU goalie Courtney Ley snared an Aines drive in the 25th minute, and a minute later Ley tipped a long Frazier blast off the crossbar. In the 32nd minute Nesshoever beat two defenders, but a third blocked her five-yard shot. Three minutes later Ley pushed a Zsido shot wide. OV ended up outshooting MRU, 11-7, in the half after the slow start.
The shot margin was 14-8 in the second half, as Nesshoever, Lynch, Aines, Frazier and Hedding all had chances. After all the brilliant opportunities, the goal was a bit of a surprise: Aines lofted a towering ball at goal from at least 30 yards out, and it carried just over Ley’s fingertips and in with 16 minutes gone.
MRU had its chances, too: Poljacik twice denied Weatherhogg, on a direct kick and on a corner kick she tried to bend directly in, and Hasenohr fired a 15-yard bullet just high. MRU also misfired on a couple opportunities.
But OV carried play. As regulation wound down, Ley stopped Frazier on a feed from Lynch, and Ley denied Nesshoever from the top of the box on a back pass from Aines.
In the first overtime, Poljacik moved to stop a Weatherhogg drive, and OV survived three corner kicks.
But in the second OT, the Otters knocked on the door: In the final seconds they earned two corner kicks, and Heath came up for two shots, the first denied by a defender at the left post, and the second sailed high as time expired.
Of course, Nesshoever said the Otters would have preferred a win, but they were happy to get some reward for their effort.
“We’ve had some really tough losses,” she said. “But this is something to be proud of.”
And Brown is happy to see his team showing improvement.
“As much I’d like to come out with a win … we’re doing well, and we’re doing the small things really well,” he said. “So I’m excited.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.