Improved defense keys surging Chesterton
CHESTERTON -- With 100 career goal scorer Addy Joiner, the offense was never an issue.
Ben Forgey just knew it was going to take a little time for things to fall into place on the defensive side of the ball.
"We graduated three starting defenders and you can't throw three sophomores in the back and expect to hit the ground running and it be seamless," the Chesterton girls soccer coach said after Saturday's 2-0 win over previously-undefeated Valparaiso in the Class 3A sectional final. "We play a tough schedule at the beginning of the season. By trial, by fire, we got a bunch of these sophomores, Alaina (South) and Nicky (Groceman) minutes, tried to get their cohesion, just talked about how to defend and how to work together. It's been outstanding. Nicky's led us since Alaina went down and the sophomores have been just great."
Then there's keeper Carley Balas, a three-sport athlete who needed a little extra time due to the truncated pre-season to get her bearings as well.
"She's not a full-time goalie because she plays basketball, she does track and field," Forgey said. "She doesn't get the same amount of touches everybody else does. When we conceded goals at the beginning of the season, there was rust. When we have to take two weeks off because of COVID, there's rust. It took us into the season to get our feet, but as the season went on, what's our record? when's the last time we allowed a goal? It's been quite a while."
Balas and the Trojans, to answer Forgey's question, haven't allowed a goal in a span of eight matches and have won 12 in a row.
"That's Carley," Forgey said. "That's our defense, everyone rounding into form. We know Carley's level and she helped us win the game. What do you expect? She's an all-state caliber goalie."
As Balas saw it from the net, it was a matter of the back third developing cohesiveness.
"It's been a big difference, losing 5-1 to beating them 2-0," Balas said. "We've just improved so much. Due to COVID, not having a summer season, it was just going right into it, and we didn't have enough time to get together. I definitely needed time. We played Brownsburg, I was just so rusty. I took a couple games to get back into it. Probably by after Valpo, I got more into it. We lost two seniors, Alaina got hurt, we've got one senior and three sophomores, it was just being able to get to know each because we weren't used to anyone back there," she said. "At the beginning, we didn't work together. I think trust is the No. 1 thing. Once we trust each other, then we were like, OK, I know she's got it, I just back her up."
With the defense gelling, Joiner and the offense knew one goal would usually be enough.
"The game plan was score first, score early," said Joiner, who admitted to a nervous stomach Saturday morning. "Ben said it once and I've repeated it ever since because it's the best saying ever, hit or be hit. We had to come out hard. We just tried to want it more than they did and I think it showed."
Like with any good team, it takes both star power and a strong supporting cast.
"What a great kid, what a great way to end her home career. I'm not sure she's lost a game on this field," Forgey said. "We knew (Valpo was) going to be confident. They haven't lost a game all season. We've gotten so much better over the course of the season. It's just been fun. If you look at the red faces over here, it's not just our big players, everyone contributed."