By Nelson Coffin
Tactical topped technical in a B Conference indoor soccer semifinal between Roland Park Country School (9-3-1) and Institute of Notre Dame (5-6) on Wednesday afternoon at Clarence “Du” Burns Arena in Canton.
While there were certainly moments of technical — not to mention physical — play in the battle won by the Reds, 5-0, the main tactical ploy by RPCS coach Nate Whitman was the key to the victory that advanced the second seeds to a berth against top-seeded Our Lady of Mount Carmel (8-2-1) in the championship on Saturday at noon at the same site.
Whitman instructed senior midfielder Mia Clary to face guard IND’s star center-mid Emma Bocanegra, limiting the Penguins’ ability to mount much offensive thrust, particularly in the first half.
“Mia gives us a lot offensively and defensively,” Whitman said. “She’s always tactically aware and astute about what we’re doing.”
Clary did an outstanding job of denying Bocanegra easy access to the ball in a match in which the officials tended to give some leeway regarding physical play.
“Coach told me to mark her completely,” Clary said, noting that “we have strong backs” (in senior Mary Pate and junior Krislyn Dorsey) with the ability to keep the other IND threats, such as Molly Kihn, in check.
And the offense made the job a bit easier by producing an early 2-0 lead on a follow by sophomore forward Kylie White and a finish by junior midfielder Nia Green off White’s pinpoint feed from the wing.
Sophomore defender Bella Hessler’s deflection of a blast by freshman Amani Green made it 3-0 in the 11th minute, a seemingly insurmountable deficit considering the paucity of offense by the Penguins.
That changed later in the half when Bocanegra offered a well-struck fee kick that was turned away by Roland Park freshman keeper Maia Pohlhaus, who also put the kibosh on Bocanegra’s attempted finish of a give-and-go in the final seconds of the opening half.
The Johns Hopkins commit was denied by Pohlhaus to open the second half as well before Kihn missed just high and wide a few minutes later.
White then redirected a feed from Green for a 4-0 advantage before freshman Maya Sauls closed out the scoring with a low-angle strike from close to the boards on the left side with 7:50 remaining in regulation.
Meanwhile, the shutout was completed after Pohlhaus made a couple of other fine saves, including one within inches of the goal mouth in the late going.
“We were a little concerned with our form coming into today,” Whitman said. “Before the (winter) break we were undefeated. And then we lost some games (including one to IND, 3-2). But today we were more committed on both sides of the ball.”
IND coach Carlos Bocanegra admitted that the Reds did a good job of neutralizing his daughter during the match.
“They were more physical than technical,” he said. “But they were the better team today. We adjusted better in the second half.”
As far as the Penguins’ program is concerned, the coach said that it has made huge strides in the last three years.
“I think we’re headed in a positive direction,” he said.