September 26th, 2010

No. 2 St. Ursula Edges Valkyries 2-1

Michael Shaw Mahoney

CSN Staff Writer

No. 2 St. Ursula Edges Valkyries 2-1
photo by Dr. Keith Forwith

Sacred Heart falls to Ohio's top girls soccer team

In soccer matches between sides of equal skill, the team that makes the fewest defensive errors generally prevails. That was certainly the case in yesterday's entertaining contest between the Ohio and Kentucky girls state champions, St. Ursula of Cincinnati ('s No. 2 ranked team) and Sacred Heart Academy of Louisville. The visiting Bulldogs took advantage of some SHA defensive gaffes in the first half, and then held on to win 2-1.

Both teams expected - and got - a battle. St. Ursula has an impressive soccer tradition, as their program even tipped as the nation's finest at one point last year. Sacred Heart has its own hard won reputation to withhold. When asked about the Kentucky champions, Lindsay Silva, St. Ursula's rock solid central defender, commented, "We knew they were going to be a pretty tough team to beat and one of our biggest competitors thus far." She was not wrong.

Early in the match St. Ursula tried to establish control of the midfield, working through their dynamo Ellyn Gruber. The passes, all kept low and sharp, zipped diagonally, prompting Coach Dave Ruehl to tell his players, "That's the perfect rhythm, keep it up all day." It took Sacred Heart some time to adjust to this precision, but in the 14th minute the Valkyries strung together a series of passes during a patient spell of build-up, an interval that proved that they were on par with their highly touted opponents.

Maddie Peabody, Sacred Heart's dependable goalkeeper, made an excellent diving save in the 16 minute followed by her teammate Lucy Chauvin's first significant shot on goal on the ensuing break-out. The Bulldogs had no intention, however, of allowing the dangerous Chauvin any space to operate. Midway through the first half Chauvin had to come out for water and a breather after her early battles with the nearly impenetrable wall that is the St. Ursula back line.

The Bulldogs struck in the 26th minute. Caught for numbers just at the edge of the box, Sacred Heart's defense could not adjust to the incursion of St. Ursula's aptly named Marisa Wolf. A predatory striker, Wolf latched onto the ball and beat Peabody to make the score 1-0. The gap widened  when a Sacred Heart defender inadvertently handled the ball in the penalty box 10 minutes later. Wolf stepped to the penalty spot and coolly slotted the ball into the left corner to make the score 2-0.

Sacred Heart retreated to the locker room at half-time to make adjustments. Their coach, the calm and quietly reflective Chris Moore, claimed after the match that he was a bit miffed by his team's lack of effort in the first half. In a nearly carbon copy of last season, the Valkyries are experiencing a slight lull at this stage, the result Moore believes of general fatigue and the blistering drought-like conditions that have recently oppressed the Louisville area. Last year, Sacred Heart lost to Notre Dame of northern Kentucky at this stage in the season but then recovered to take the state title. Moore has faith that his current squad can rebound as well.

The Valkyries were certainly more formidable after the break. In quick succession, Lucy Chauvin fed Eleanor Gabriel two times with Gabriel shooting over the crossbar on the first combination and then forcing a save from the St. Ursula's goalkeeper on the second. Andrea Distler used her considerable ball skill and fakery to give the Valkyries a fighting chance in midfield. In the 55th minute, Distler sent in a corner only to have it immediately blasted back to her. She adjusted, then sent in a cross that Gabriel shot with some power. The ball flew wide of the post by a mere foot or two.

The Bulldogs continued to work through Gruber and even pushed the imposing defender Liz Reilly up along the right flank. Gruber took a wicked shot from range in the 68th minute, a shot that bounced off the hands of Maddie Peabody, who stretched left to recover the spinning ball.

Sacred Heart's Caroline Wistrom, a freshman whose gutsy play is confoundingly inconsistent with her demure off-field personality, provided the Valkyries with a much needed boost. With eight minutes left in the match, she unleashed a powerful shot from the top of the box that banged off the bottom of the crossbar, the rebound muddling the St. Ursula goalkeeper just enough to bounce inside the line for a goal. Sacred Heart pressed forward, looking for the equalizer, but the scored remained 2-1 at the final whistle.

Irrespective of the score, the match was a total victory for Catholic high school soccer. St. Ursula and Sacred Heart both nurture talent, and in cooperation with the club system, the schools help produce players that can truly carry the torch of their American predecessors like Mia Hamm and Christine Lilly.

Lindsay Silva and Ellyn Gruber, who have committed to Dayton and Ohio State respectively, credit their coach with allowing them the freedom to play creatively in an environment free of loud censure and criticism. Dave Ruehl and Chris Moore are both excellent soccer coaches. They eschew the stereotype of the barking American coach, a model frankly detrimental to soccer with its onus on the players to make quick decisions independent of a controlling minder. Ruehl and Moore are the kind of coaches the high school game needs, and the success of their programs is a testament to their soccer savvy and style. 

For full video highlights of Saturday's match, visit the "CSN TV" section on the right side of the main page.


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