Girls still in a good spot
Whitehall has relied on a stingy back line and an opportunistic offense to position themselves as the top girls soccer team in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference so far this season, even after suffering their first loss of the season Monday to Nazareth, 1-0.
Before that, after Emmaus dealt Parkland their first league loss in 70 matches, Whitehall made sure the Trojans weren’t going to reel off another 70, by defeating them 3-1 when the two met a few weeks ago.
Following Saturday’s 8-0 win over Dieruff, the team was 12-0 but the loss to the Eagles drops them to 12-1. They have five games remaining, all of those against Skyline Division opponents. Of those five, four have winning records, the lone exception being Northampton who currently sits at 5-6.
They have secured spots in both the league and district playoffs, and head coach Chris Bleam said that the mission now is to get better each week in different aspects of the game.
“It’s been a great start, but it doesn’t matter how you start, it matters how you finish,” said Bleam.
Against the Eagles, Nazareth scored a second half goal from Hayden Berner to win the game after a scoreless first half.
But in a year of impressive wins, the win over the Trojans certainly ranks up there as one of the biggest. But with each passing game, Whitehall has risen to the challenge, finding ways to defeat Freedom and Salisbury in overtime, and out-dueling a pesky Easton squad last week with two second half goals to get the 2-1 victory.
In their match against the Red Rovers, Bleam said that they were outstanding on defense throughout the entire game. He said that Easton managed just one shot on goal.
The defense has allowed just nine goals this season. Bleam said that they play with a zonal system, analogous to a matchup zone in basketball.
Erica Juliano is one of those defenders who is tasked with covering one those zones. The senior said that she transitioned to center back this season after playing most of hear career as defensive center mid. She’s adept at both neutralizing and negating opponents, and her presence in front of goalkeeper Grace Clary has allowed the Zephyrs to remain on top of the EPC.
“She’s our rock back there,” said Bleam.
Juliano said that all their defenders bring something different to the game.
“Each individual player in our defensive line brings different strengths and skills, giving us the ability to adapt to different opposing teams’ styles of play,” said Juliano. “The communication of the back line with one another is another major reason our defense is so strong.”
Bleam said that he’ll move Juliano around, sometimes to the midfield, and she’s able to handle whatever’s tossed her way.
“She’s just a great player and a great kid,” said Bleam.
He said that their offense squandered some opportunities against Easton, but they were able to score one more goal than their opponent, and that’s the name of the game.
“We’ve had some good bounces, and we’ve had some good fortune, and we’ve played well, and we’re starting to show the ability of putting 80 minutes together, something that we weren’t doing earlier this season,” said Bleam.
Bleam attributes that to maturity and experience. He also noted that it’s a long season, one that features 17 games.
“It’s a really long season and it’s hard to be up all the time, and now with the success that these girls have had, other teams are a little extra geared up for them,” said Bleam. “I think they’re starting to embrace that.”
Their ability to stay undefeated involves a strong mental attitude as well, said Juliano.
“Our team is relentless when it comes to finishing the game,” said Juliano. “We want to win, especially the seniors including me, Baylie Hess, Hope Millets, and Kylie Saliby. It’s been four years for all of us and we so badly want to win leagues and or districts.
“All of the girls on the team want this. The energy in the locker room before the game shows that. Also, now that we have a target on our backs, we have to play better than ever. I really believe it’s the mindset of proving to the league and everyone else that Whitehall can win that is helping us be so successful so far this season.”