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ECNL Sep 11, 2012

ECNL: Richmond Strikers U-17s start strong with shutout win over Va. Rush

By Jimmy LaRoue

Even on the opening day of the 2012-13 Elite Clubs National League season, it’s clear to see the difference Elizabeth Ball makes on a team.

The Under-17 Richmond Strikers starlet scored twice and set up two more goals in a 5-0 win Saturday over Virginia Rush at the Hampton Roads Soccer Complex.

“[She’s a] tremendous, tremendous player,” said Strikers coach Chris Friant. “Everything goes through her from our team. We’re learning to play with some new players and getting some other things to happen.”

Ball, a player to watch, scored the first goal of the match after rounding the Rush goalkeeper at the top of the box and slotting the ball into an empty net from eight yards. She later scored on a penalty.

Newcomer Alexis Mallory, who set up Ball’s penalty after she was taken down in the box, also contributed a goal, with Ball returning the favor for the assist. Friant believes the speedy Mallory, who plays high school soccer at Monticello, near Charlottesville, adds a new dimension to the team that will keep teams from keying exclusively on Ball.

The Strikers also got strong contributions from Kayla Blake, who scored once and had another long-range attempt parried over the bar, while Kathryn Tarnai also contributed a goal that Ball also helped set up by controlling an errant clearance and passing to Tarnai, who fired home from 25 yards.

While Ball clearly had an impact upon the game, Friant believes the attention teams pay to her will continue to create opportunities for other players.

“It was a good start to our season,” Friant said. “We were short in numbers, we’ve got some injuries we’re dealing with. It was good for us to finally play a game, knock the ball around and score some great goals.”

As U-16s, the Strikers finished at 7-6-4 last season, fifth place in the ECNL’s Mid-Atlantic Conference standings, and was 13th in the National Flight B standings with a 9-4-5 record (A and B flights have been eliminated this season) while Rush was 0-15-2 in the Southeast Conference (3-17-3 in Flight B), but is now playing with the Strikers in the Mid-Atlantic Conference.

Friant said he wanted the girls to come out and be competitive, to win balls and be assertive in the air and going forward. He said that’s something the Strikers haven’t always done as well at in the past.

Friant praised the efforts of right midfielder Paige Majdic and center back Alexis Pringle, who he said will be key players for the Strikers this season.

He said with the U-17s, they’ll continue to work on strengthening their possession-based play, while finding other options to keep teams from keying on Ball.

The Strikers U-18s, who defeated Virginia Rush 3-0 behind two goals from Megan Fitzsimmons and another goal from Ellen Taylor, also started strong. Taylor also added an assist, as did Kaylee Pearce.

“I think a lot of it is that these are two core groups that have been together for a long time,” Friant said. “We’ve added a player here or there, but for the most part, they’ve played together for awhile, and I think that helps. They play good soccer, they knock the ball around and they fight.”