By Mike Deak
WARSAW – There is an art form to behold when soccer is played at a high and intelligent level. As Thursday’s girls soccer match between No. 11-ranked Penn and Warsaw, it was evident both teams were doing more than just putting on a fantastic show.
On the scoreboard, Penn walked off the Warsaw pitch Thursday night with a 2-1 win. Both coaches were very complimentary of one another, both teams had smiles on their faces, the fan bases for both clubs appreciative of the play on the field. It was exactly what a matchup of state powers should be.
“This is by far the best we have played this year, by a mile,” said Warsaw girls soccer head coach Jon Hoover.
The match would split into two halves as far as tides. The first 40 minutes were virtually controlled by Warsaw, and even then, Penn scored the first goal on its first attempt. Quinn Marien took Penn’s first amble into the Warsaw defensive third and unloaded a rocket that left Warsaw keeper Ellie Schenck handcuffed as it whistled into the netting.
From there, however, Warsaw gained control of the pace and the distribution, which allowed an equalizer just three minutes later. A hard, low shot by Sam Aalbue demanded a diving save from Penn keeper Lily Smith, but Rylee Burns was there on the back side to gather the deflected shot and buried the return.
As Warsaw continued its surge, it felt like it had a drawn penalty when Corissa Koontz was pulled down in the box on a series of clever touches on the end line working toward net. Play carried in, and soon into the second half, Penn found itself clamoring, and getting, a call on a similar collision in the penalty area.
Kate Noonan, who had entered the match just moments before, collided with two Warsaw defenders and was granted the offense. Noonan stood over and buried left side, the penalty kick in the 54th minute to log the eventual game winner.
“We would have loved to have gotten that one in the first half,” bellowed Hoover towards the officials as his team reset. And while his team had Sarah Kratzsch and Sam Aalbue fire shots on target, the connector just wasn’t there as a worn out pair of clubs realized the fate.
“It was just so much fun to watch, and even though we lost, being a part of a game like that is phenomenal,” Hoover said afterwards. “Watching the girls come off the field even in a loss like that, they knew they had accomplished something new and exactly why we play that team.”
The match itself was full of tremendous individual play as well. Koontz was a menace and a magician all over the field, using outstanding footwork and on the ball skill to run circles around a very fast and physical Penn defense. Burns’ play on the wing had Penn’s defense sagging to cover her, often leaving holes that Koontz and Aalbue would pound through the middle. And with an offensive fireworks package the Kingsmen can be, Hoover was also quick to note the play of his defense, Kiersten Parker and Megan DeBoest among the mentions for their play in collapsing on a Penn team (8-3-1) that only had four shots on target aside from the two connectors, just two in the first 37 minutes of the match.
Warsaw (8-5) took nine shots and put seven on frame, forcing Smith into six saves. Schenck made four stops for the Tigers.
“Teams are going focus on the middle with us as long as we have Sam and Corissa there,” Hoover said. “It’s the players on the outside that are raising us to the next level. Rylee Burns gets better and better every game. She makes better decisions. She is learning how to pull the best out of herself. She maintains the ball better than she ever has, makes good decisions with her passing. We saw that everywhere tonight. Good, solid passes to open players. Good defensive marking. It was so nice to see.”
As Penn’s head coach, Jeff Hart, motioned to Hoover afterwards, he remarked on just how much Warsaw had pushed his team and how poorly they responded to the pressure. The two exchanged notes and pleasantries about their next contests, Penn against Homestead in a match that very much interests Hoover, and Warsaw with Marian, to which Hart’s club tied earlier this year. They both agreed the match Thursday was outstanding and their teams were better for it.
Hoover couldn’t agree more.
“I think our girls are realizing how high our potential is,” he stated. “You can either rise up against a team like Penn, or they can blow you off the field. I think our girls took heart to what we did. We played at a pace I thought we had, but it was smart soccer, which is more gratifying.”