Women's Soccer: Offense looks improved in spring games
Spring exhibition games aren't quite as intense as those in the regular season, but in the current stretch of practice matches, the UNH women's soccer team is showing signs of improvement in the offensive zone. In two spring matches, the Wildcats possessed the ball for a least 60 percent of the time in both of their spring games, and, addressing their lack of goal scoring last fall, have scored six goals.
Last season, the Wildcats scored 18 goals, tied for last in America East with UMass-Lowell.
"[We didn't score] as much as we would have liked [last season]," junior forward Meghan Ledwith said. "We were able to create chances ... but [this year] it definitely feels a lot more like a penetration, to go forward and want it to go forward ... [to] know when we need to pull back, and I think better balance is already being shown right now."
Caroline Murray, a sophomore and transfer from Ohio State who has also found success this spring, noticed how easily the Wildcats have implemented ideas from practice into the game scenarios.
"We've been working on when to be patient, go forward and when we should counter attack quickly, so I think we were able to do that against Brown," Murray said.
Ledwith has been the star of the spring season, scoring five of the team's six goals. By doing so, she has more than doubled her regular season total of two.
Ledwith was glad to get the most recent three in a hat trick last Saturday against Brown.
"It was a good feeling," Ledwith said. "It kind of just came naturally after working that whole week, and just kind of felt like what we've been doing in practice, but it felt good to get three goals [Saturday against Brown]."
Head coach Sam Lopes has noted that Ledwith's confidence has increased since the fall. She's improved her ability to get open in tight spaces and in front of the goal.
Murray acknowledged how well she has clicked with Ledwith so far this spring.
"[Ledwith] is very active up top, so she's easy to find," Murray said. "Sometimes, she goes behind, sometimes she checks, so it's been really easy to connect with her."
Murray, who played for the Buckeyes for the last two seasons, has also played a big part of the Wildcats' success on offense this spring. The New Canaan, Conn., native assisted Ledwith in both of their spring matches, and she said she's already settled comfortably into the Wildcats' system.
"I really like the style of the play of this team, so I think it fits better than my old school," Murray said. "It's definitely more possession-oriented, keep the ball on the ground a lot, and that's definitely how I like to play."
Ledwith has enjoyed playing with Murray, a player Lopes said earlier in the year could turn out to be one of the better players in the conference.
"[Murray's] foot skills really help us out in the middle, and she's able to actually keep the ball and connect well with not just me but other forwards as well," Ledwith said. "We have all been working really well up top together, midfielders as well."
Last fall's leading goal scorer, sophomore Kirsten O'Neil, is yet to score a goal this spring, but Lopes said earlier this week that she and Ledwith have developed a "Very good relationship."
O'Neil has gotten assists in the recent exhibition games, and Ledwith said it's just coincidence that the goals landed on her foot and not O'Neil's. Last season, she beat the keeper five times.
"[O'Neil is playing] great," Ledwith said. "Like I said, we're really just working so well off each other, and fortunately I've just gotten on the ends of a few of them, but at the same time it could have been any one of us, because we're really working so hard off the ball to create chances, and Kirsten, she had like two or three of my assists ... and she's getting shots as well."
Brown served as the Wildcats' first Division I test in 2014. The Bears put up a good contest in the 3-2 Wildcat victory last Saturday, but Ledwith and Murray said it still felt like an exhibition game, not quite as intense as the regular season games they are preparing for. The Bears do not play as many spring games as UNH, and their practice schedule had not been nearly as intense as the Wildcats' leading up to the spring games.
"Brown is a DI team, but they also haven't been practicing a lot like we have lately," Ledwith said. "So definitely the speed of play will pick up once it turns conference time."
"The speed of play [was] not as fast," Murray said. "In the spring, it's more kind of working things out."
In addition to the offensive production, the team is happy about the return of junior back Jordan Logue, who suffered a concussion earlier this year. She recently began training again without feeling the symptoms of her injury.
"Her ability to kick the ball long [is a strength]," Ledwith said when asked about Logue's play. "She has a big leg, and she can get it higher by one kick of the ball, and she's also just a great defender all around, so she's going to add a lot of different dynamic in the back."
The Wildcats host St. Anselm this Saturday at Bremner Field. Kickoff is at 6:30 p.m.
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