Patriots match motor with muscle in rivalry win

By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

BRETZVILLE — To say the Heritage Hills girls soccer team possesses speed is like saying that the summer engenders heat.

The Patriots know it. Their opponents know it. And like summer, all who are out of the loop will realize it within minutes on the field, as they’re left sweating and possibly out of breath.

But what about a game that melds pace with punch? When motor meets muscle? The Patriots also have the backbone for that type of duality.

Oxley

When play became increasingly physical in the Patriots’ tussle with chief adversary Forest Park on Tuesday, Dria Oxley bolstered the Patriots’ brawn in the central midfield. And in absorbing the punch while suppressing the Rangers’ countering speed, Heritage Hills’ center defender Abbie Busler helped temper most momentum the host Rangers could conjure.

Aptly, Busler provided the final blow after a structured yet sizzling team performance for two-thirds of the match — a thrashing header off a Breigh Haase corner kick with about 17 minutes to play, capping a 4-0 Patriot victory in Bretzville.

Surviving the contest’s sporadic ferocity and general parity in the early stages, Heritage Hills notched its seventh straight win against its Pocket Athletic Conference rival, dating back to 2008.

The season’s first conference match can always bring nerves, Patriot coach Doug Satterfield said. Maintaining command becomes the objective.

“The five games up until this one, we’ve scored a lot of goals. And we’ve learned a lot from it but we really haven’t been tested, really put our backs up against the wall,” said Satterfield, whose team has outscored the opposition 36-3 through its first six contests.

Busler

“So when we get here, our first conference game, it takes us a little while to sort out the pressure. But I think we controlled the tempo of the game.”

While the Patriots (6-0, 1-0) continued to rely on the speed of lone striker Karaline Staggs and Haase at outside midfield in the final third of the field, Oxley accented the game with physicality in the middle. While her desire to win aerial challenges appeared unmatched at times, so did her tenacity in 50-50 battles on the ground.

As play gained traction in the first half, the sophomore barreled through a challenging Ranger to win possession of the ball near midfield. She looked forward at her attacking options.

Whistle. Foul, the referee indicated. A look of befuddlement pasted on Oxley’s face.

“It’s kind of natural,” the second-year starter said of her physical brand. “It’s an instinct just learning from the coaches.”

Worried about contact in her punishing pursuit? Hardly.

“Just get the ball,” Oxley said of her mindset, grinning.

Once she does — assuming no official mistook the hardheadedness as illegal — Oxley exhibits another defining facet of her game.

“She’s a big, strong kid that’s an outstanding passer,” Satterfield said.

“Having that person who can win balls and do something with it, it’s another tool we’ve got.”

As for Forest Park, the opportunities presented themselves throughout the opening 40 minutes, though the Rangers couldn’t locate an equalizer to the Pats’ lone first-half goal — a Staggs header off a corner kick.

The Rangers (1-5, 0-1) hit the crossbar off a corner of their own, forced Patriot goalkeeper Maddie Crews to make a tricky punch save on a free kick by defender Rachel Lueken, and manufactured a bevy of counterattacks, rooted in the speed, shiftiness and style of Madisyn Hunt.

The freshman, who stayed on the ground for several minutes after being taken down hard seconds before the first half concluded, offered the most effective retort to Staggs and Haase on the Patriot frontline.

Hunt’s work rate, as well as those of the four other freshman starters, is something Ranger coach Amanda Gogel commended. While headway still needs to be made, their desire to match up physically has been a good sign.

“They’re getting there. It’s a big difference from junior high,” Gogel said. “But hopefully as the season progresses, they will get in the rhythm of everything.”

Seeming completely poised was Busler, who even after getting cracked hard on a challenge early in the second half, shrugged it off and delivered the header finish some 20 minutes later.

As she chased down a ball with her back to play in the first half, Busler executed a flashy step-over to relieve pressure, a maneuver far from routine for most defenders. She then dribbled out of danger, set her eyes upfield and delivered a strike to a midfielder’s foot.

“She’s fearless,” Oxley said of Busler. “She goes in hard and she gets all the balls she’s supposed to get. She holds us together back there.”

Added Satterfield: “She wins the ball in the back, has composure, finds feet. I mean, that’s what you want out of a central defender.”

Underlining Staggs’ and Haase’s efforts in attack and the relentless work of stopper Paige Priest, who marked Hunt throughout the second half, Satterfield said he feels the Patriots “can play with just about anybody that’s put in front of us.”

On the flip side, Gogel talked uncertainly about her team’s course. The second-year coach benched a senior captain with more than 15 minutes left in the game for exchanging pleasantries with the center official.

The Rangers played the remainder of the game with 10 players, as 13 others sat on the bench. Gogel hopes the point was digested by a group she thinks requires reuniting.

“It doesn’t matter what grade you are on the field. As soon as you walk on here, you have to put whatever it is at school behind you,” Gogel said in an impromptu soliloquy of sorts. “You’re a team, you’re the Rangers. We’re here to win, we’re here to have fun.

“We just have to be able to mix together as a team.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.




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