The Joplin Lady Eagles hosted the Nixa Lady Eagles on Monday evening. It was Joplin’s senior night and the game was played at Junge field. Junge field is the where Joplin’s football games are played. It is a beautiful stadium with a state-of-the-art artificial turf.
Both the size of the field (much larger than the Nixa community center), and the speed of the turf caused problems for Nixa. The size of the pitch, especially the width, exposed Nixa’s occasional struggles with shape and spacing. The speed of play on the quick turf caused even further problems. The ball moved quickly from attack to counter attack, defending third to attacking third, and side to side.
Nixa’s midfield expended considerable energy in the first ten minutes of the game chasing the ball all over the field and were subsequently winded. Then, as the game progressed, their tired legs struggled. If Joplin made a quick run at Nixa’s defense, the midfield dropped back into the defensive line. But, on the fast surface, Nixa would often clear the ball to an empty midfield. When the ball would ultimately find a Nixa forward, the midfield was challenged to join in on the attack. Conversely, when Nixa organized an offensive possession, frequently the midfield would get caught too high. A Joplin counter attack was then left to be defended solely by the three defenders and the sweeper. This type of back and forth play occurred often throughout the game, and it was typically one teams’ forwards taking on the other teams’ defenders. It made for an entertaining match, but not as fundamentally sound as a coach would like.
Joplin scored the opening goal of the match in the 30th minute. #13 forward Kelsey Sanders put high pressure on Nixa’s junior sweeper Luce Crim. It was the type of play that was just highlighted. The Nixa defense was far behind the midfield as the midfield had moved up. The ball came to Crim. She attempted to beat Sanders on the dribble, but Sanders fought her hard and gained possession. When senior stopper Jacklyn Finley came to help Crim, Sanders was able to split the two and get behind them. From there, freshman goalie Kristen Miller came out to challenge the play, but a smooth Sanders placed the ball low and to the right for the goal. The half ended with Joplin leading 1-0.
Nixa’s only goal came in the second half. It was earned by senior forward Stephanie Allen and was probably the goal of the year. Allen had gained possession of the ball in Nixa’s half of the middle third. She was behind the forward line as she had come back to help on defense. When she gained possession, she had lots of room to roam as both teams were tired and spread out from one end to the other. Allen was quickly dribbling at near-full speed as she attacked a Joplin defender near midfield. She was able to beat her by playing the ball behind the Joplin player and running on to the ball. However, another Joplin defender engaged her about 30 yards from the goal. Both players were running at full speed and locked shoulder to shoulder. Allen maintained her dribble close to her feet. When the ball was near the penalty area, the Joplin goalie charged. Allen made a step over move and leaned into her shoulder-locked defender. The lean gave her some space and put the ball on her left foot with the goalie charging. A beautiful strike, low and to the far post, beat the keeper and hit the inside of net along the far post. The goal tied the score 1-1.
The match seemed destined to go to overtime periods when Joplin earned a corner kick with two minutes left in the game. #10 Lauren Coppel took the kick and sent it near post. The ball was cross bar high and near post long. Several players ran on to the ball as did goalie Kristen Miller. As Miller jumped to catch or punch the ball, she was bumped. She now awkwardly attempted to punch the ball away, but it deflected off of her hand into the goal instead. It was an unlucky play from Nixa’s standpoint. Miller played well the entire game and deserved better. But it highlights why coaches say good things happen when the ball is put on goal.
It should also be noted that freshman Kelsey Bartell played a very good game at forward. Bartell has played more often at outside-midfield, but was up top for most of this match. She made many good runs into the Joplin defense, frequently beating one defender and getting off a shot or cross. Her energy and speed kept Joplin on their heels and took some pressure off of Allen, who was marked for the whole game.