When Maple Grove coach Mike Burr gathered his squad together at the midway point of the Lady Red Dragons' then-scoreless West Division battle with Frewsburg on Tuesday, it wasn't exactly words of encouragement he offered, but instead a series of challenges.
"I challenged them to hit our feet more, to control the ball... to have more composure," he said. "The biggest thing, I thought, was that in the first half we were too frantic, and there were occasions where we were just getting rid of the ball without finding each other."
Based on their play in the second half, the group's answer to Burr was clear: "challenge accepted."
Maple Grove’s Alison Winchester chases down the ball in front of teammate Olivia Richardson during Tuesday’s West Division girls soccer game against Frewsburg. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photo by Rob Tucker
Alison Winchester, displaying perfectly that very "composure" of which Burr had been talking, tallied two goals, first at the 54th and then at 60th minute; Olivia Richardson converted on a Winchester cross eight minutes later; and the Lady Red Dragons secured a 3-0 victory over the visiting Bears to move into sole possession of second place in the division.
As things stand now, Falconer leads the West Division with a 5-0-0 league record. Maple Grove is a game off the pace at 5-1-0 and Frewsburg rounds out the top three with a 5-2-0 mark.
Winchester, a junior, came through with the eventual game-winner with a little more than 26 minutes remaining in the contest when she received a pass from teammate Emma Franczak, made not one, not two, but three separate cuts - zig-zag style - to get by a pair of Frewsburg defenders and then ripped a shot into the left upper 90.
"You can't find a (better example) of composure than Allie burying those shots," Burr marveled. She just took her time and was just so calm, cool and collected.
"It was wonderful to see."
The goal gave Maple Grove a lead it would never relinquish, but neither she, nor Franczak, were quite finished.
Once again Franczak found space in the Frewsburg territory and, after carrying the ball a ways deeper toward the area, the junior dished ahead to Winchester, who by virtue of the pass' placement had managed to get behind the Bears defense. Left one-on-one with goalkeeper Libby Hartley, Winchester calmly, and with the side of her foot (as though she were making a pass), scooted the ball into the net just inside the right post.
"That second goal was her best," Burr said, "because you could see her saying, 'OK, I'll do exactly what coach told me, control the ball and slide it right into the corner.'"
Winchester would find Olivia Richardson with a left-to-right cross at the 68th minute to put the finishing touches on the victory.
The goals were the third and fourth of the season for Winchester (and the assist was her team-leading sixth), while Franczak's two assists upped her team-high point total to 18 - fifth best amongst all Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association players.
"All three goals were pretty," Burr said, "and well deserved. We had a good, hard-fought game. It was going both ways a little bit, but we were able to turn it up in the second half and get some good opportunities."
While the Red Dragon offense kicked it into gear in the second half, it was the defense that kept them in contention throughout.
Working to clog the middle and limit opportunities down the sidelines, the Maple Grove defense held Frewsburg without a shot in the first half and to just three - two of which were on goal but stopped by goalkeeper Brianne Davis - overall.
"We just couldn't get any offensive push," Frewsburg coach Ericka Alm said. "We did pretty well overall, but we couldn't get any sort of shots on the net, and if you can't do that, you're not going to win the game."