NORTH CANTON The numbers are staggering.
Through nine games, the Hoover girls soccer team has outscored its opponents by a combined 40-5 margin, rolling to an 8-0-1 record whose only blemish is a 2-2 tie with Austintown Fitch.
Of the eight wins, none have come by fewer than three goals. Simply put, the Vikings have raced out ahead of their opponents and kept the pressure on, something head coach Brian Girdlestone likes even more given the difficulty of the schedule.
"A big reason for our overall success is the confidence and determination … we scheduled more difficult teams early on to see how we stack up," Girdlestone said. "Our first couple of games were Medina and Brecksville and those were tough teams."
Girdlestone noted that this year’s juniors and seniors have played together for a long time and the Vikings are seeing the benefits of that shared history. The roster lists 13 seniors and juniors, providing a wealth of experience.
That experience has been especially evident on the defensive end, where allowing only five goals has been the result of good chemistry between the defenders on the back line of the defense and senior goal Madison Smith.
"Our scoring overall in nine games, we’ve given up just five goals and scored 40. We had a game against Green the other night and one of their coaches told them that this (Hoover) is not a team you can let score early," Girdlestone said.
Scoring early has been a big part of the Vikings’ success. Pointing to one player as the reason for the scoring binge isn’t easy, but there have been big efforts, such as the hat trick Lesley Kiesling tallied in the 4-1 win over Green. Getting a lead and putting the game in the hands of Smith and the defense have amped up the pressure on Hoover’s opponents, a fact Girdlestone traces back to the pressure Smith puts on herself.
"Madison has been outstanding and continues to improve each year," the veteran coach said. "We go to camp and you ask her how the goalie session was an she’ll say it was fine, but she’ll tell me, ‘I need to be pushed more,’ so she has that awareness."
The Fitch game was the lone close call so far, but Girdlestone wouldn’t mind seeing a close game or two down the stretch. He knows that the level of competition will only rise as the tournament nears and one game in particular looms as a big one within the Federal League in the next week or two.
An Oct. 11 game with Jackson projects to be a de facto league championship game if both teams can win their next league contest and when the two schools square off in any sport, there is plenty on the line even if neither team is having a great season. When they’re the two top teams in the league and two of the top seeds in the upcoming postseason, the contest takes on an added weight.
"We’re excited and we look at that as an opportunity if that happens, but we tell the players before every league game have to take care of opponent in front of us, while beating a team like Jackson is a whole other level," Girdlestone said.
The reality for both teams is that regardless of the outcome of that game, they could very well meet again in the postseason with even higher stakes. Until then, the Vikings will attempt to add to their impressive numbers and continue to raise the number in the most important column on the stat sheet, wins.
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