Belle Vernon girls soccer uses season-opening tournament as learning experience
Nearly everything went right for the Belle Vernon girls soccer team in a season-opening tournament over the weekend.
• Sophomores Isabella Laurita and Jillian Butchki provided expected scoring punch. In the Leopards’ first game -- a 10-0 victory against West Mifflin -- Laurita finished with four goals and three assists. Butchki added three goals and three helpers.
• Freshman Morgan Einodshofer gave Belle Vernon a third option, scoring three goals with three assists against West Mifflin.
• The Leopards’ new alignment, which utilizes three defenders, generated offensive opportunities and withstood challenges.
About the only thing that went wrong for youthful Belle Vernon was the final result of its second match -- a 2-1 setback to North Catholic.
“I felt really good about this team coming out of the weekend,” second-year Belle Vernon coach Tom Cameron said. “Our team did really well. We did the things we needed to do, but there’s still more to do. We’re still a young group. We’re only starting two seniors, so we’re working on continuity, possessing the ball and limiting mistakes. We just had a little trouble finishing in that second game, but that’s soccer.”
Shots glanced off posts and bounced from crossbars -- “I hit two crossbars in that game,” Laurita said -- in the loss, which evened Belle Vernon’s record at 1-1 before it begins Section 2-3A play Wednesday against Uniontown. But the Leopards came away from that match feeling about as good as they did after beating West Mifflin.
“I think it was a good start for our team and for me,” Laurita said. “We played well, and there was a lot of good passes. This weekend, we got closer as a team.”
Belle Vernon also became a more knowledgeable team.
The Leopards quickly realized continually playing long passes to Laurita and Butchki is not a strong strategy for the group. Cameron wants quick, safe passes, preferably on the ground, in hopes of wearing down a defense and eventually taking advantage with the Leopards’ skill and speed along the attacking front.
Against both opponents, Belle Vernon earned possession and created scoring opportunities. Against West Mifflin, those opportunities turned to goals. Against North Catholic, the opportunities were there, the results were not.
Particularly encouraging for the Leopards was the emergence of Einodshofer, who plays club soccer for Beadling.
“She’s played at a high level before she got to us, but I wasn’t real sure if she would have that confidence right away at the high school level,” Cameron said. “You don’t know how a 14-year-old is going to respond going against 17-year-olds, but she fit right in.”
Laurita, for one, is happy Einodshofer made a quick adjustment.
“I played with her in middle school, and I knew Morgan was a really good player,” Laurita said. “I’m happy she’s already scoring goals and helping us.”
Inviting teams like North Catholic and Connellsville to its season-opening tournament also is a benefit for Belle Vernon, which wants to take a couple extra steps in the WPIAL playoffs this season. The Leopards added teams such as defending WPIAL Class 2A champion Waynesburg and perennial Class 4A power Canon-McMillan to its nonsection schedule. They also scrimmaged Hempfield.
The increase in competition might not always pay off in the win column, but Belle Vernon, which finished 12-5-1 last season but failed to score in two matches against section champion Elizabeth Forward and lost in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs, believes it will be better prepared for tight matches.
“I wanted my girls to see what other teams are like and, to get to that level, I wanted to bulk up the schedule,” Cameron said. “In a couple weeks, we play (Elizabeth Forward) during a rough part of our schedule. We’ll know exactly where we’re at and what we are after that.”