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Hurricanes Hang Onto Tough Opener
Sep. 17, 2018
CANES 3 BLUE 2
On a sweltering, humid mid-September Saturday, the Ocala Hurricanes kicked off their fall season versus Coach Moreno's Royal Blue squad with a completely new look, leaning on three of four returnees and eleven newcomers to bring the new chemistry for a third consecutive championship run. The temperature was over 90 degrees by the second half, and the humidity pushed the heat index up around 100. The Hurricanes, with sweeper Josh Sieradzki captaining the defense in front of goalkeeper Josh Gangelhoff, withstood about fifteen minutes of an early rush from Moreno's Blue Crew. "Our diamond defense worked well to stave off their early surge," said Hurricanes head coach Fred Miley.
Catalyzed by some aggressive play from Jack and Ryan Gorman and Tessa Ward, the Hurricanes wrestled to turn the tide, as those three initiated attacking triangles with Tre Ward, Mia Liebegott, Laney Liles, and Angie Loforte. By the 18th minute, Tre found enough daylight just outside the box for a hard shot rattling the crossbar, announcing the Hurricanes were there for a fight. "Tre's first shot was like a warning shot that got us all feeling we were in fact in this thing toe to toe," said Miley. "We were up against some older players, and were without our only 15-year-old, and Tre stepped up as a clear leader. This was just a matter of believing in ourselves and each other, and the choices to fight started to spread for us."
Shortly after that bit of drama, 12-year-old Logan Richie raced off the bench to make a difference among the mostly taller players. Logan wasted no time scooping up a loose ball and laying out a perfect assist to Mia running full stride for a casual strike into the net. "Just like our hot box drill," Coach Miley remarked. "They worked together like it was nothing. Logan's initiative made that happen, and Mia kept a cool head as usual for the finish. A very businesslike first goal for us."
On the ensuing kickoff, Tre showed up as a thief, ripping the ball for himself, beating two defenders, and plugging another one into the net. "Bang Bang. Like John Wayne just showed up," said Miley. "Until those two shots by Mia and Tre, they were outshooting us."
The Hurricanes were not only missing Nate "Q" Quiroz, their oldest and strongest returning player, and a field leader, but also Assistant Coach Corey Liles. Aaron Sieradzki stepped in for Coach Corey. "Coach Corey is always a huge difference maker for us, so we missed both him and Q today in a big way, but our kids didn't let that distract them. They believe in each other and we believe in them as a team. They just had to find out what that feels like and looks like under fire."
The Hurricanes took their 2-0 lead into their halftime talk. By then, the heat was making its mark on all of the kids on both sides, and substitutions were necessary at all the right times and positions. "The strength and confidence of our team was clear at halftime," said Miley.
"Our team has six girls, the most of any team in the league, and I'm proud of that. Right around 13, 14, or 15 is when boys usually catch up to or pass the girls with their size. That's our U15 level, and we have mostly younger girls. Still, all six of our girls took on some of their bigger boys straight on, just like they do in practice. Our girls hold their own with no fear. GiGi Leon went up against boys almost twice her size and made them pay for underestimating her quickness and smarts around the ball. Our pressure drills had our kids ready not only for contact, but for the endurance they would need to hang onto the second half. Boy or girl, our team was best conditioned for that heat, and mentally ready for battle."
Moreno's Crew was obviously tweaked and prodded during their halftime talk, because they came out banging away again, using their athleticism and early energy well to win some balls and orchestrate attacks. Their first two attacks of the new half were turned away by Sieradzki and company, as the Hurricanes made some counter-attacks down the touch line. At the 51st minute, Moreno's strikers set up a crossing run with a misdirection shot to finally punch through the Hurricanes diamond. Gangelhoff never had a chance, the shot was so well placed. Much as Tre had done in the first half, the Blue squad siezed the Canes kickoff and flipped the script with a fast second goal of their own. Coach Miley soothed his fighters with the reminder: "Hey, it's zero-zero again. You know what to do. Fight!"
And that is what the Hurricanes did. Loose balls suddenly seemed to have a Hurricanes signature on them through the final fifteen minutes of the match, as the best conditioned team took control. "We were able to settle the contest into better possession time for us, which eventually tipped the match toward our opportunities. We expected our conditioning and our passing would prevail. Our kids knew they had worked for that late edge and they took it," said Miley.
The Hurricanes generated three late surges on the Blue net as they grabbed control of the match. Emily Metzler held out several tries on her right defensive side, and a couple of times sent the ball up to Jackson Walker, rotating in for Loforte who had battled the heat and opponent most of the match at right midfield. Jackson's fresh legs shook up the match like lightning and put the Blue squad back on its heels. The first response to the tie score was a beautiful shot by midfielder Ryan Gorman from a shallow angle over twenty yards out, finding the back of the net like a heat-seeking missile. The shot was called back because of a late offsides call. "That was more potential adversity for our mindset, because none of us could see how Ryan was offside. I had to ask for a clarification of the call, to pinpoint a player for that call. The head ref was clearly backing the linesman, as he should, because he was not in position like the coaches and linesman on the opposite side were. I believe in only making an inquiry, not an argument. An extremely hot and humid match is more difficult not only to play, but also to officiate with perfect positioning. Our kids know that coaches and officials are as imperfect as they are, but I can tell you our kids faced a real mental challenge with that call, and they overcame it together with more attacks on net. I was proud of their composure. That had nothing to do with anything but them and their own resolve."
The Hurricanes scrapped for a loose ball on their left flank, with Chase Richie coming out on the winning end, and laying the ball ahead to Laney Liles, who tapped it across to Tre Ward running an interior gap, which he exploited past two defenders to knock home the winner, his second tally of the day. The Hurricanes held onto their winning margin the final ten minutes with superior possession time and continuing pressure on the Blue goal. "We really took the match into our own hands down the stretch," said their coach. "We had better defensive support systems in place, and were more level headed and confident with our hard won opportunities. They had seven shots on goal to our six, but we scored on half of our tries."
Supporters on both sides could not tell which way the match would go. In the heavy heat, the contest became a battle of wills and endurance. "That was a strong opponent. They tested us well," said Miley. "Sieradzki and Gangelhoff held down the fort against a tough and persisting attack from some good experienced players, and did not get rattled or hang their heads when many other defenders and goalkeepers at this level might have. They held true to what we believe about ourselves and each other. They held together our team as the backbone of it. We needed teamwork and endurance to overcome several adversities beyond the heat."
THE WORK BEHIND THE MATCHES AND THE COMMITMENT BEHIND THE WORK
Coach Miley is convinced the pre-season training was the real difference-maker. "Half of our six training sessions these last three weeks had to be made up on different days due to lightning and heavy rain cancellations. I don't think the other teams were doing that. We arrived for opening day with all six sessions underpinning our teamwork. In training, our passing and formations under pressure were the emphasis. Our kids worked hard. They were ready to win an endurance test with older and bigger kids, and that's exactly what they did."
The Hurricanes, since their arrival last fall in Ocala's Big Sun Youth Soccer League, remain undefeated after all 20 matches so far. "Team-building requires buy-in from team members," Coach Miley explained. "This was a very competitive match that required our very best. We all have our opinions and approaches with the game, and with young people learning it. Early in a season, I like to be clear about my thinking. My style is not so much about what I expect of others, but more about how we can agree on what we expect of ourselves. People can give lip service to rec league being "non-competitive", but the fact is, both squads, like these two today, are truly attacking and defending opposite goals with all they have. All the coaches at this level do actually employ their best strategies as they give all of their players their best chances at success."
"So I'm not into pretending. ALL the coaches are working hard to help our players learn the game well. Each kid needs to feel their own role in different positions, formations, and scenarios. There are always pressure decisions to make in this sport. You can't take the soccer out of soccer or dumb it down, no matter how hard you want to try. It's more fun as a team gels with rising skills and better connections, and less fun without that. Sooner or later, kids do figure out how to kick even when they're not coached, and they do figure out which goals they are defending and attacking. Soccer by nature is always competitive, and we can teach kids to reach for excellence or not. My families are on board with a team working for excellence. All the players chose that when given the choice on Day 1. We don't care what level someone else wants to call us or whether we are labeled premier or competitive or rec when we signed up. This is not about labels. Coach Corey and I already feel we have premier kids who love competition, so we're taking this group as far as they want to go and as fast as they want to go, for no extra charge. We really don't care much about these elite sort of labels, and our kids don't feel any ceiling on what they will do this season. We are working with some high quality kids and they already understand excellence. Soccer is what it is, and it always requires work before the playing really gets fun. We'll take any group of kids and take them as far as they want to go. We get that, they get that, and that is how we go at it. Kids will do well together if they are encouraged to operate as a good team does. They will rise higher than we think, if we only show the way and let them play."
"This is a good league because we have a director who encourages excellence of character at all levels, not just excellence of play. That culture of excellence is in place. At the beginning of each season, all the coaches buy into their golden opportunities to take these kids forward in soccer and life. Soccer wouldn't be any fun if we just kicked the ball anywhere. All teams have a goal to reach, the score is kept, and the teams who work together best usually get the most goals. So, we say to our team, soccer is about working together as well as possible. We are helping middle schoolers and young high schoolers experience the world's greatest team sport with uniquely built teams under different coaches who care about the whole kid. All our kids get that, and they love working for that true team experience. Each new season, our six U15 teams are jumbled, with maybe three or four players returning to each squad. That creates a lot of fun for our volunteer coaches to put something special together in a short time."
"One coach asked why I don't coach 'competitive' level. I had to smile. My answer to him was that I believe excellence in a sport should always be a choice at any level. Personally, I'm especially passionate about beginning players having an opportunity to find an early love for the game by tasting many successes in their growth as a new player. I had coaches who did that for me, and now I'm giving back. I cannot speak for other coaches or tell them where or how they should coach, but as for our team, it is our players who are always offered on Day 1 that choice of excellence as a goal, and they want it every time. Each coach handles Day 1 in their own way. We look for buy-in on what the players expect of themselves. They get to own their direction from the beginning, and they always respond to that ownership with plenty of focus and progress."
"Coach Corey and I are very impressed with how far and fast the early development is coming along for our two newcomers to soccer, Emily Metzler and Chase Richie. Seeing new players pull down their skills and confidence this early is an absolutely high reward for us as coaches. We know we are responsible for our team and nobody else's. We take pride in our players and especially how they are growing as young people who are stepping into new expressions and leadership through soccer. We understand the culture we aim to lead, and we are responsible for the sportsmanship and gratitude of our players. Each team has a special mix of families, it's own dreams, and its own character opportunities. We support the best interactions possible for all the BSYSL families, and we say and try to show this early. The kids are always willing to give their best when they can feel a team that is serious about bringing out the best in each other as they find more fun with better skills and better teamwork, in a good league that supports their best efforts.
The culture of each team is up to the coaches to lead. We'll be happy to see other teams get a flag or a website or an app, if they so choose, to keep the enthusiasm and communication open and lively. But the real substance of a season is achieved in practice. Our Hurricanes families always bring a big, happy, positive crowd to responsibly back ALL the kids in any match. Our message is that soccer is for ALL the people, and that is why it is for the families. Every kid matters, whether they can afford Premier League or some kind of elite travel team or not. Coach Corey and I agree it's exciting to coach players new to the sport and see their progress in just a few weeks take them to the level of players with several years on them. That's what we call elite. We are proud of Emily and Chase for this awesome beginning.
"As for Hurricanes Soccer, everyone keeps buying into our simple identity as a hard working passing team committed to excellence. I have never seen a newcomer to the sport who did not want to rise to the level around them. Even a year or two with the game can make a big difference, but there are some drills that promote "soccer decisions" better than others. These are the competitive drills, and they don't usually involve a lot of cones or talking or standing around. There is no ego in good coaching, because every minute is for the kids, and they learn best in action. Coach Corey and I are good for each other's approach. We like to keep them moving."
"Our kids are good thinkers on the fly because that's all we do. We buy in on Day 1, and then go to work to be the best we can be. A steady mentality is very important for young athletes. It's truly amazing how far kids can go together when they learn to believe in themselves and their teammates. That is the simple focus we need to overcome whatever we face. The mentality of an overcomer is always a mark of our Ocala Hurricanes players by late season, but I was very glad to see this sort of shared composure in our opening match, even without two of our leaders."
"Our families can see at practices how these players are putting in the work and believing in each other. These kids deserve all the credit. Soccer is not rocket science, but it requires a lot of work to play it simple. Our parents and players are clear about the messages from their coaches, and we are seeing our kids stepping up as leaders already. I know our games will be a blast again, and our game stories are for the family scrapbooks. The beautiful plays will continue to come together as these kids build their connections and feel all the families behind them. Yes, we are bragging on our kids. That's why we have a team website. This is not just about soccer. It's also about life. Do we try to score more goals than the other team does? Yes. Do we aim for the first place medal? Of course. We teach our kids most of all to be better than they were the week before, as a team. That's because our kids are infinitely important and when we believe in them and notice their efforts in the world's greatest competitive team sport, we set them into motion to be whatever they may be. This is a lot like shooting arrows. Our kids will fly far if our belief in them is the drawn bowstring."
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