Girls’ soccer: MV’s comeback win over Coe-Brown bolsters the Pride as playoffs loom

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 10-18-2023 10:34 AM

PENACOOK – Coe-Brown looked like a team that hadn’t lost since Aug. 31 for the first 15 minutes or so of Tuesday’s game at Merrimack Valley. Somer Loto slipped a shot behind MV goalie Hannah Verville in the third minute to give the Bears an early 1-0 advantage, and Coe-Brown controlled most of the possession.

In the 33rd minute, however, MV grabbed momentum. First, Sierra Mercer converted on a penalty kick to even the score, and then the Pride started to find rhythm. In the 61st minute, Sydney Bailey scored to put MV ahead, 2-1. Despite a feverish final push from the Bears, the Pride held on for the 2-1 win.

The matchup between two teams that entered Tuesday at 11-2-1 on the season held major implications for playoff seeding in Division II. The win for MV (12-2-1) clinches a first-round bye. The loss for the Bears (11-3-1) makes Friday’s regular season finale against winless Plymouth a must-win to also secure a first-round bye.

Here are three takeaways from Tuesday’s tight, late-season affair:

Pride strike balance between physicality and possession

Asked what she was most pleased with after another gritty win in a season full of them, MV head coach Kylee Yam pointed to her team’s balance. But she wasn’t referring to balance in the conventional sense – mixing offense and defense successfully. She instead highlighted how the Pride juggled playing a physical game, while also controlling possession when it needed to.

For the most part this season, the latter abilities have been there. Mixing in the physicality – a necessary component to make a deep playoff run – has come as a welcomed development.

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“It’s actually the first time we’ve really put that all together,” Yam said. “We played really physical against the Kingswood team the other day, and we’ve been playing pretty good possession all year, so we really need to combine those, and I thought we did that well.”

Defense remains rock solid, offense still could improve

Since a 2-0 loss to Bow on Sept. 22, MV is 7-1, outscoring opponents 28-3 during that stretch. Overall this season, the Pride have allowed an average of just 0.7 goals per game, including six shutouts. 

Yam pointed to her defenders’ comfort levels playing together for the consistent cohesion on the back line.

“There are a lot of leaders back there, and even though there are some new players as well, they say that they don’t even have to say things out loud, but they know where each other’s going to be,” she said. “That kind of teamwork and working with each other all the time and just that knowing that shifting really helps.” 

On offense, though, Yam said she wouldn’t mind seeing her team score a few more goals. While MV might only give up 0.7 goals per game, the Pride are also only averaging 2.5 scored per contest and have been held to two goals or fewer in 12 of 15 games so far. Five of MV’s 12 wins have come via a 2-1 score.

“I think creating more attacking opportunities and finishing in the box,” Yam said of the focus moving forward to improve the offense. “3-0 would be great.”

Bears’ first loss in nearly two months still has positives

Coe-Brown started the year 0-2, with an opening day 2-1 loss to MV and another 2-1 loss to Bow. Since, the Bears had rattled off wins in 11 of 12 games, with a tie mixed in against John Stark. But Tuesday’s defeat against a similarly tough opponent, served as a reminder to the Bears of what it will take to win a championship when the playoffs begin next week.

“The first thing that we talked about when we came off was this was a taste of a playoff game,” head coach Josh Hils said. “This is exactly how a playoff game, a final four, is going to be.”

At halftime on Tuesday, Hils sensed unwarranted disappointment from his players, at the time locked in a 1-1 tie. He pushed his group to refocus, and although the Bears couldn’t come away with the win, the team snapping out of its mid-game malaise left Hils feeling more optimistic than not.

“(I’m) just proud of how the girls responded,” he said. “I challenged them at halftime. Just looked like their body language – you would've thought we were losing at halftime instead of a tie game. They responded. They stepped up and they responded well.”