Cats gaining comfort, young and old

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Jasper’s Anna Charron and Annie Stout leaned in to glance down at their teammates during player introductions before the start of Monday night’s game against Big Eight Conference foe Boonville at the Jasper High School Soccer Complex. Charron headed home the Wildcats’ second goal in a 2-0 blanking of the Pioneers. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Writer

JASPER — As the ball rolled beyond the end line for a Jasper corner kick, Anna Charron and Emily Jones located each other immediately.

Just a simple glance and nod, but the message is understood. Jones served the ball into the 6-yard box. Charron dashed toward the goal, located the cross and buried a header into the net.

Quasi-telepathy of that sort typically manifests with years of shared experience on the field. Yet for Charron, a freshman, and Jones, a senior, this was simply game No. 3.

While Jasper’s 2-0 muting of Big Eight Conference foe Boonville on Monday at the Jasper High School Soccer Complex didn’t quite qualify as offensive mastery, the melding of young and old — and furthermore the two parties’ seemingly instant comfort with one another — flashed throughout the lineup.

“I’ve never played soccer with Anna Charron in my life, and yet we play like that,” Jones said with a snap of her flingers.

“It’s one of those things that we look at each other like, head nod. In.”

While now-junior Elizabeth Day was Jasper’s only underclassman starter last season, the Wildcats sported a lineup Monday packed with four underclassman starters and four freshmen contributing ample minutes off the bench.

Before Charron collected her second goal of the season some 15 minutes into the first half, another varsity newcomer provided the Wildcats their initial cushion.

After accepting the ball some 40 yards from goal, outside midfielder Brittany Haskins scampered down the left side of the field before staging a quick burst toward the center. The sophomore distanced herself from the defender, advanced just inside the 18-yard line and buried a finish inside the near post.

“To be honest, I really wasn’t trying to score at first,” Haskins said. “I was just trying to get it somewhere. But I just saw an open goal and just took it.”

The two-goal buffer was ample security for Jasper’s defenders and goalie Shannon Sonderman, who touched the ball once in the first half and didn’t record a save until the 23rd minute of the second half.

Anchored in the center by freshmen Kayla Thimling and Reagan Otto, Jasper’s starting backline is comprised of all new starters after last year’s defensive quartet graduated and primary reserve Annie Stenftenagel moved into a new role at attacking midfield.

While the Pioneers threatened sparingly, the Wildcat defenders did remain poised when pressured, namely Otto, a converted striker who calmly — and frequently — sauntered upfield with the ball at her feet. To boot, her sturdy build yields a more physical brand than is typical of a first-year player.

“They’re doing an amazing job as freshmen,” Jones said of Thimling and Otto. “For this being their third varsity game, it’s astounding.”

More impressive has been the unit’s receptiveness to a new formation the Wildcat coaches instituted. Instead of a more conventional three-wave system — defense, midfielders, forwards — Jasper has installed a 4-2-3-1 configuration to accentuate its forte, assistant coach Andy Daub said.

“We kind of came in with the mentality that we’re going to play to our strength. And our strength is our attack,” said Daub, who assumed head coaching duties Monday with Anthony Price on vacation. “And so this way, when our connections are good, (when) we’re playing to feet, when our width and our spacing is good, we can really get out and run.”

Speedy options arrived bountifully for the Wildcats. Even when Haskins took respite, freshman Annie Stout blazed the flank and Stenftenagel and Jones kept pace accelerating in the middle. Coupled with the stability and distribution skills of sophomore Elizabeth Verkamp as the lone striker, the Cats’ rapid clip afforded them more than a dozen shots, including a couple that rang the post.

While some kinks with the revised formation still need to be ironed out, it’s simply a matter of time before the true profits of the realignment arrive, Haskins said.

“Even though it’s new to us, I feel like everyone on the team is so smart, and we’re very quick learners,” Haskins said. “So I feel like, toward the end of the season, it’s just going to be something natural to us.”

The Cats (2-1, 2-0) confronted few obstacles through the 80 minutes of play, but were dealt a curveball of sorts midway through the second half.

With about 23 minutes remaining, the center referee halted play as a spectator collapsed beside one of the bleachers. As parties searched hastily for a defibrillator — which Daub sprinted to retrieve from the nearby softball complex — Bob Noblitt, a nurse and the brother of Jasper athletic director Andy Noblitt, helped resuscitate the fallen man, who was said to have not taken his blood pressure medicine Monday morning. By the time the defibrillator was obtained, the man had begun breathing again. With the help of first responders and several parents, he was placed on a stretcher and taken to Memorial Hospital for examination.

Still holding a two-goal lead, the Wildcats returned from the half-hour ordeal needing to regain concentration. They simply upped the pressure.

Jones belted a 35-yard set piece off the post, Haskins scooted a dribble between a defender’s legs and Otto performed a stylish step-over with the ball before slotting a pristine pass some 40 yards to a streaking midfielder.

“We did our best to get back into it mentally, which is tough for us because getting back into the game was difficult just knowing what had happened,” Jones said about the resumption of play. “But I thought we did a pretty good job, especially toward the end, of getting back into it and attacking.”

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