Memorable goal is highlight for ML's long soccer season
Laird’s free kick results in lone Cardinals’ goal in winless season
One goal does not a season make.
Unless, however, that score comes in the final game of the season against the top team in the league and is the team’s first – and only – goal of the season.
That’s why junior Jessica Laird will likely tell her kids about the day her 25-yard free kick in the 45th minute ended a season of frustration for her soccer team that lost the game to Lakeside 9-1 and finished the year winless in eight games in the Northeast A League and 0-12 overall.
“Yeah, that was one of our highlights, they were pretty happy about that,” Cardinals’ head coach Zane Higgins said. “And so was I.”
Higgins said breaking the 11-game scoreless streak was more exciting for his girls and will give them a positive to look back upon.
“It really wouldn’t have mattered for me; for them obviously, their reaction after the goal was like we won the game.”
Laird, Higgins’ only club soccer player, has a special ability on long penalty kicks. “She hit a knuckle ball,” Higgins explained. “I think her placement was the biggest thing.”
Just like in baseball, where the knuckle ball is exceedingly difficult to hit, so it is in soccer for the goalkeeper to play. “It’s unpredictable and you don’t know where it’s going to go.”
Higgins said the key to delivering such a deceptive kick is to hit it dead center, “And it will knuckle on you.”
Laird does it consistently – and “Every time on free kicks,” Higgins said. “She’s got a little bit of an outside curve to it, too, so it knuckles and hits to the outside.” Placement might have been even a bigger factor, Higgins said.
And Higgins admits, he never saw the goal. He was organizing his defense to make sure they were in the right position. “I saw the ball go in the net, I saw it bounce; I know she hit it to the opposite side of the keeper, around the wall.”
Also nice, Higgins said, was if there was a team to score on having it happen against Lakeside (8-0, 13-1) was especially nice.
It was both a forgettable, and memorable season all at the same time Higgins said.
“We had an uphill battle from the beginning, we started off with nine players,” Higgins said.
Between graduation and players choosing not to return, or being lured away by other fall sports, “We were struggling at the beginning to get enough players to play.”
The players on the team recruited and the school helped spread the word. “We ended up with about 19 players which was really good,” Higgins said.
The team got enough players to play, which was job one. Melding things together was Higgins’ challenge. “It was fun for me going in with no expectations, “ he said. “The girls went in having great attitudes; they were awesome.”
They made it fun for me, he said. “It really wasn’t difficult for me at all,” he said of going winless – and almost goal-less. “It was a struggle not winning,” he said. But “It really wasn’t all that important to us.”
“Just going out and improving every single game – we did a good job at that – and the girls were happy.”
That’s got both a good and bad element to it, Higgins said. “The girls who came in to help us were all seniors so we’re going to have to do some heavy recruiting for next year as well.”
Both Laird and goalkeeper Hanah Hartman return so the Cardinals will have a good base on which to build. Higgins said there will be camps after the spring boy’s season.
Of Hartman, who faced a blizzard of shots both last Thursday – and for the season – “She’s a very good athlete and is becoming an excellent keeper,” Higgins said.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.