Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
September 26, 2019
High school soccer teams that don’t get scored on can’t lose – plain and simple. But the Kenston girls haven’t been too focused on not losing this season.
Behind an attack that’s averaging 5.5 goals per game, it has become evident that the Lady Bombers have put their efforts in winning with a glass-half-full, rather than half-empty, mentality.
The most potent offense in program history, Kenston’s 66 goals through 12 matches is already a school mark with four regular-season games still to be played. The previous single-single record was 59 goals.
After a road win against non-league opponent Streetsboro, 8-3, on Saturday, and a 4-0 road victory against Western Reserve Conference foe Willoughby South on Tuesday night, Kenston improved to 11-0-1 under fifth-year head coach Kathleen Vass. The former triumph was the Lady Bombers’ sixth game scoring seven or more goals this season.
“I think, from the beginning of preseason, something that we’ve been focused on is just learning how to create goal-scoring opportunities and working on our ball-striking technique,” Vass said. “And we’re just trying to keep the game simple, and we know that scoring goals wins games, so that’s what we started focusing on.
“We’ve just been trying to teach our players how to attack different defenses and allow them the opportunity to make those decisions. So, we’ve scored goals by getting behind people. We’ve scored goals through good combination play. We’ve scored goals off set pieces. We’ve scored goals from distance.”
The bottom line is that the Lady Bombers have a lot of different players who can score in a lot of different ways, which is a little bit different from what they’ve had in the past.
Last year, Kenston finished 9-6-3 with a 1-0 loss against Revere in the Division I district semifinals. That 2018 squad averaged 2.1 goals per game with three girls accounting for 35 of 38 goals.
This year, 13 Lady Bombers have already found the back of the net, including nine players who have scored multiple tallies.
Specifically, sophomore midfielder Skylar Cornell has a team-high 22 goals with five assists, and senior forward Elyse Myles has scored 18 goals with six assists for one of the most dynamic duos in the state. Cornell already bested the single-season program scoring mark of 19 goals by Briana Bartolone in 2010.
“Skylar is just a very skilled player,” Vass said. “I think this year she’s just really taken on the role of being a goal scorer. It’s something that she maybe hasn’t had to do in the past, on the club side, and maybe she wasn’t comfortable with last year, but she’s really taken ownership over that.
“Elyse has always had great speed, and so we’ve just been working on a little bit more foot skill and just the finishing technique. So, we’ve been able to spring her loose quite a bit, and her efficiency has gone up tremendously.”
Possessing solid skill throughout the pitch, however, has allowed a variety of players to get open, and no one shies away from shooting when opportunities arise, Vass said.
Also playing up top with Myles, sophomore forward Sophia Mighton has netted six goals and five assists as the two continue to develop chemistry and play off each other. Meanwhile, freshman holding midfielder Emma Gaskin has a team-high nine assists with three goals on her season resume.
“Sophia and Elyse (Myles) are really starting to understand the movement required of them while Skylar (Cornell) holds the ball,” Vass said. “And Emma Gaskin is really good with a good final pass. So, I think they’re working really well together, and the communication is improving.”
In the 8-3 victory against Streetsboro (7-3-1) on Saturday, yeah, the Lady Bombers won by five goals, but it was the most they surrendered all season.
The Lady Rockets, who have a great counterattack and are averaging four goals a game this season, took a 1-0 lead in the first five minutes of the game, Vass said.
“I think we knew Streetsboro was a very strong offensive team,” she said. “They’ve scored a lot of goals too. So, we were trying to be aggressive and keep the ball on their side as much as we could.
“Unfortunately, their keeper went down before the game with an injury, so they had a backup goalkeeper in. We noticed some of our shots on target were going in, so we were just trying to take shots from the outside, and our forwards were making good diagonals into the corners where we were kind of beating them around the edge a little bit.”
Through 12 matches, Kenston has six shutouts and another three games with just one goal allowed – not too shabby for a team whose starting goalie, junior Natalie Adante, is sidelined for the entire season with an injury.
Overcoming that adversity, the Lady Bombers have had three goalies combine to make 22 saves this season, but senior Julia Piazza has transitioned to keeper for the blunt of the load between the posts after playing defense last year.
“She really has no goalkeeping experience,” Vass said. “So, we’ve been working with her, and Natalie has helped us out working with her, and she’s very athletic and coachable. She’s done a phenomenal job for us and has made some great saves in keeping the shutouts we’ve had.”
But during the Streetsboro game, Piazza was actually out of town at a college-recruitment visit for lacrosse.
Starting just three defenders this season, senior left back Leah Fine is the lone returner on the line, while sophomore Aidan Myles, who has four goals and four assists, transitioned to center back, and freshman Jayme O’Neill got the nod to start at right back.
In addition to O’Neill on defense and Gaskin in the midfield, freshman Paige Spicuzza is also starting at holding mid and freshman Ramsey Smith is starting at outside mid for four varsity rookies playing key roles for the Lady Bombers this season.
“We put so much work into the preseason, because I think we knew we were going to need to be as strong as possible starting out the season with a lot of young players contributing,” Vass said. “We didn’t want to wait until halfway through the season until our freshmen got comfortable. We wanted to give them confidence right away. And to be as consistent as we have, it’s been pretty unbelievable.”
Kenston’s most contested matches this season include a 4-2 win against Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy (7-4-1) in a season opener, a 1-1 draw against Mayfield (7-4-2), a 3-1 victory against Mogadore Field (4-5-1) and a 4-2 triumph against Alliance Marlington (5-5).
But the Lady Bombers have some tough opponents coming up in their final four games, including WRC foe Chardon (7-4-2), Chagrin Falls (7-2-1), WRC foe Madison (5-5-2) and Division II No. 6-ranked West Geauga (10-1).
“In some of our closer games, we just continue to attack and stick to our game plan,” Vass said. “Our girls really don’t get rattled when we go down a goal or when we’re tied later in a game. We know, if we’re creating good chances, we’re confident the ball’s going to go in.”
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