Merrill kickers off to great start

The Bluejay girls soccer team kicked off a new season with a pair of games last week, and are undefeated by the barest of margins.
The girls turned in a 1-0 triumph on the road at Mosinee on Tuesday, then played Antigo to a 0-0 tie through two grueling overtime periods at the MARC on Thursday.
The only drawback to Tuesday’s contest was the minimal scoring.
“We played very well, probably one of the most complete games I have seen over the last couple of seasons,” MHS coach Willie Bialecki said. “Our forwards played outstanding for much of the game, and we had great support from our midfield as well. Our defense also did a great job shutting down any pressure from Mosinee’s forwards. The ball movement between our forwards and our midfield was very good. We spent greater than 60 of the 80 minutes in Mosinee on offense, and the larger portion of the remaining time in possession of the ball at midfield. It seemed like we were really handling the ball to our best ability.”
Despite numerous solid chances to score, only Sydney Harris was the only one to pull it off, in the game’s 65th minute.
“We had seemingly endless chances on offense, putting 10 shots on goal and we likely had twice as many that just missed, and these were mostly quality opportunities,” Bialecki said. “It was a little unnerving to play so well and not score more goals. Sydney and Tracy each had three shots on goal, and we had a few from our midfielders as well.
“It took us about 65 minutes to net our only goal when Sydney made a nice run and practically ran the ball into the net, but that was enough for the win.”
Bialecki noted the work of varsity tyros.
“I was very impressed by some of our newcomers at Mosinee,” he said. “Izzie Main played very well at forward and Mikaila Juhlke showed a lot of potential at midfield. Taylor LaBorde also had a very solid game at defense for us, and she gets better every week it seems. In goal, Dawn Leland wasn’t pressured too often but was forced to play the ball on occasion and made a couple good saves, which was all she needed to do for her first varsity shutout.”
Red Robin turnabout
Antigo provided an entirely different challenge, but the Bluejay defense withstood the assault.
“Thursday’s game at home against Antigo was not as positive for us,” Bialecki said “We looked like a different team entirely. Antigo had us on our heels right away and we played nervous the majority of the game. Antigo had a lot of pressure on our defense from the start and it took us a while to settle in.
“They did get some scoring chances against us though and Dawn played exceptional for it being only her second varsity start. She made nine saves on nine shots, one of which I thought got by her, but luckily she was able to fall on it just in time.
“It was a tough game for us, and I hope brought us back down to earth after Tuesday’s win when things just went our way.”
The Red Robins unique defensive strategy mixed things up for Merrill.
“Our biggest problem was Antigo’s style of defense which was just to clear the ball at all costs,” Bialecki said. “Anytime we began to move the ball up the field, they just kicked it out of bounds or up the field. It was frustrating for us because we wound up with only a single shot on goal, but lucky for us it didn’t help their offense at all. Once we adjusted to that we could anticipate where they were likely to send the ball and stop their forwards from making any plays.”
Bialecki found a silver lining of effort and outcome.
“The girls did play hard though, I must say that,” he said. “Our conditioning is not where it needs to be right now, but in spite of that they hustled and kept us in the game through regulation and two overtimes. I certainly am not satisfied with a 0-0 draw, but I must admit that Antigo outplayed us for a large part of the game and seemed like they had us beat.”

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