Girls’ soccer: Merrimack Valley continues success in tight games, beats John Stark to improve to 5-0-1

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 09-22-2023 11:50 AM

PENACOOK – If nothing else, the Merrimack Valley girls’ soccer team been extremely consistent so far this season.

Entering Thursday, MV had played five games, winning four and tying one. All four wins came by a 2-1 score; the other matchup ended in a 1-1 draw.

Although Thursday wasn’t another 2-1 affair, the Pride (5-0-1) continued its theme of strong defense and timely offense to produce a nailbiting victory, taking down John Stark (5-2-0), 1-0. Sophomore Ashlyn Fortier scored the only goal in the 54th minute.

Here are three notes from the battle under the lights on Thursday night:

MV’s defense holds strong once again: Chemistry has been the underlying thread for the Pride so far in 2023, with lots of experience returning, especially on the back line. Only allowing five goals all season, the stout defensive efforts have helped make up for the general lack of offense.

“I think I was happiest about the team chemistry and the way they played together,” head coach Kylee Yam said. “We struggled a little with that last game – we were a little bit disjointed – but I thought today, we worked well.”

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In particular, Yam highlighted the importance of senior center back Calli Gray and senior goalkeeper Hannah Verville to anchor a group of players that now have quite a bit of experience playing together.

“They know each other really well,” Yam said. “They’ve played together for a long time, some of them since they were in middle school, so that’s helped them. We’ve worked a lot over the past few years on mental toughness and more composure, so I think that’s helping even though we have some work still to do on that.”

Pride still need to generate more offense: With the defense playing as well as it has, MV certainly doesn’t want to compromise success there too much in favor of more offensive chances. Rather, Yam explained, she’s hoping her group can continue to improve on being more patient before sending the ball downfield, allowing the play to build more organically instead of trying to force the action.

“Really, it’s simple,” she said. “It’s nothing super complex but trying to just dial it back and go back to simple stuff.”

MV won’t have much time to rest, with a matchup at Bow (5-1-1) upcoming on Friday afternoon in what should be another tightly contested battle.

John Stark’s Marceau still satisfied with where the Generals sit: After starting the season 5-0-0, things have come back down to earth this week for the Generals, who also lost to Hollis-Brookline, 3-1, on Tuesday. But with both losses to the current first- and second-place teams in Division II, there’s not a ton for head coach Eddie Marceau to feel concerned about.

“I always tell them that losing is the best education,” he said after the MV loss. “The Hollis game we were very flat and played very conservatively, and today, we matched the level of Merrimack Valley, especially in the second half, to be clear. So if we can do that for 80 minutes, we’ll be fine.”

Like the Pride, John Stark’s success has stemmed in large part from its defensive play. In seven games, the Generals have only allowed six goals. Marceau noted the play of Makayla Pellerin, Elizabeth Hatfield, Hayleigh Dennis and Sophia Lamothe (who didn’t play Thursday) as the keys to that unit’s success.

“They’ve been so solid back there,” Marceau said, also highlighting the ability of sophomore Chloe Caron who slid into the back line on Thursday. “They’ve just been playing so well as a unit cohesively.”

John Stark also has another big matchup on the docket: a home date with Coe-Brown (4-2-0) on Saturday morning, a team that’s won four games in a row.

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