CVCA takes Norton out of its rhythm, takes home road
By Mike D’Agruma
NORTON — From the middle of the stands at Norton High School’s stadium, one could clearly hear Norton’s girls soccer coach Nate Vaill chanting the same instruction to his soccer team — “Skill. Skill. Skill.”
From the middle of the first half until the final whistle blew during the Lady Panthers 2-0 loss to Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy (CVCA) Aug. 27, Vaill kept repeating that instruction. He was wondering where it went — the skill, the beautiful one, two-touch passing that produced the game’s first shot 30 seconds in, its first five scoring chances within a 10-minute span and kept the Lady Royals from advancing the ball past midfield with a pass to feet until the 16th minute.
According to assistant coach Seth Vaill, he and his brother have preached skill, short passing and building the attack for the last four years. So how did a single header from CVCA sophomore Erin Craig (two goals) off a corner kick restart change the whole dynamic of the Norton attack?
“It’s almost shocking,” Seth Vaill said. “Right when that goal happened, we went from on our toes to on our heels.
“It’s mental — we need someone to step up again, we need someone to really bring us back in [the game],” he added. “Last year, we had a very successful season ... we’re not used to coming back from 1-0, 2-0, and this is stuff throughout the season we have to figure out. We have to keep our skill. We have to keep our strategy.”
“Ever since the first day of practice, I’ve been talking about momentum, building momentum in practice and preseason, building momentum in scrimmages and going forward — and we did some of that,” said Lady Royals coach Bob Adamov. “They understood what the momentum was and what it meant to them because they gained that one goal lead.”
Unfortunately for their coaches, the Lady Panthers abandoned their strength after that first goal and were sucked into playing to CVCA’s — counterattacking with passes to the open flanks for speedy wings to either play back across the middle or win a corner kick. Both of Craig’s goals came off a Lady Royals’ counterattack with both counterattacks starting with long passes to open space. Her second goal came after some combination passing with talented striker Rachel Coyne (one assist).
But though CVCA effectively managed to take control of the game after the initial goal and dictate pace for the majority of the game, Norton wasn’t without its scoring chances. Though they came less often, many missed opportunities came as a result of hard luck. A brilliant second-half cross by Jillian Cundiff and almost better volley attempt by Jen Lowe hit the crossbar. A first-half Cundiff cross was placed back post, but no one trailed the play to knock in an easy goal. Craig’s first goal came after Norton keeper Tricia Milford (five saves) could only get a fingertip on Faith Truthan’s (one assist) corner kick. Her second slid right under Milford’s diving body at the exact microsecond it had to.
“As coaches, how do you coach something like that?” Seth Vaill said. “How do you coach a hit crossbar? How do you coach 2 inches to the left instead of 2 inches to the right? As coaches and as players, you have to keep your focus. Tonight’s a perfect example.
“We have a fantastic group [of players],” he added. “We just can’t lose our focus.”
Fortunately for CVCA, keeper Julie Keslar never lost hers. Though she only recorded six saves on the day, Keslar proved to be the difference in maintaining a Lady Royals shutout. She stuffed Cundiff on a one-on-one breakaway after Norton beat a CVCA offside trap. She made a phenomenal save in punching out a direct free kick shot by Kristina Rutherford with minutes left. She anticipated and dominated second half play around the net.
“She’s a good leader,” Adamov said. “She knows when to step up; she knows how to arrange the defense in front of her. She’s going to be great this year and next year — I’m glad she’s a junior.”
The Lady Royals will host Hathaway Brown School Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. The Lady Panthers will host Roosevelt High School today, Aug. 30, at 5 p.m.
Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy’s Julie Keslar, center, rises to punch a Norton High School corner kick away during the Lady Royals’ 2-0 win Aug. 27. Photo: Mike D’Agruma