Sept. 4, 2012
PITT WOMEN'S SOCCER BLOGS
By Morgan Sharick, Junior Defender, August 25-September 1, 2012
Now that we are six games into the season, it is a great time to reflect upon what we have and have not accomplished thus far, particularly this past week. The final game of our "five games in nine days" series had good results. Despite a somewhat slow and sloppy first half, every girl on the team gutted out 45 minutes of good soccer in the second half, and we were able to put two more goals in for a 3-1 final decision over Duquesne. Because of the physical toll that the first five games had on us, we spent Monday and Tuesday giving our bodies some valuable rest. When Wednesday rolled around, we were on our toes ready to prepare for a tough weekend against two highly respectable opponents in Miami (FL) and Penn State.
Although we were off to a 4-1 start in our first five games, there were issues that needed to be addressed in practice in order to optimize our chances against Miami on Friday night. We knew that we would be matched up against exceptional athletes and talented soccer players, as the Hurricanes had qualified for the NCAA Tournament last season amidst competing in arguably the most competitive conference the in the country, the ACC.
We spent some time on Tuesday sharpening our technical skills in warmup, and then we jumped right into drills and short-sided games. As a team, we have been struggling to dominate the 50/50 balls on the field, particularly the battles for second balls, so the focus of one of the drills was 50/50 balls, both first and second.
Thursday was tactic-oriented; as we worked on ball movement as well as our defensive pressure and transition in a 4-2-3-1 formation (we typically play a 4-4-2). In only one game using this formation, we created a lot of scoring opportunities, so the coaches believed that playing this way could be successful for us against Miami. Our team has displayed coachability and versatility in adapting to a different formation, and that is promising for the rest of the season.
Friday rolled around, gameday, and we were out on the field bright and early to review our defensive and offensive set pieces before classes started. Coach Miller emphasized how important our repetition is in this category because it has proven to be a strength of our team. There is a significant amount of concentration and focus that goes into building good habits on set pieces, whether it be corner kicks or free kicks, and by dedicating an hour on game days to perfecting these good habits, we are positioning ourselves to excel in all aspects of set pieces.
At 5:30 p.m. on Friday, when the first whistle blew, we were ready to prove people wrong, to show that we can hang with some of the best teams out there. For a good portion of the first half, we played a step behind physically and mentally, carelessly giving the ball away and allowing them to beat us up a little bit. It was evident that they were going to be dynamic on both sides of the ball, testing us in our defensive third, and pressuring in all areas of the field. We began to adjust before halftime, and the coaches gave us some specific instructions to carry out in the second half. There was space to exploit along the sidelines, as Miami was playing a 4-3-3, lacking wide midfielders.
From the moment the second half started, we executed the game plan that we were given. We created chances by switching the point of attack, and we matched their physicality for 45 minutes, battling to a 0-0 tie at the end of regulation. Heading into overtime, each one of us looked at each other and declared that we refused to lose, and we battled with that mentality for nearly 10 more minutes. Unfortunately, one split-second lapse of concentration cost us with 30 seconds left in the first overtime; we had to walk away in disappointment, knowing that we deserved the win.
Nonetheless, there were many positive things to take from the game, particularly the spirit with which we fought. Coach Mike told us that although up until this point we have enjoyed winning, we have not shown that we do not like to lose. He said that we finally displayed the latter in the Miami game, and that hating to lose is a mentality that will do wonders for us in the future. If we take that mentality with us each time we step onto the field, regardless of whether it be in training or in a game, this season will be extremely promising.