Victoria East's Jahnae Mata battles with Gregory-Portland's Sabrina Salazar for control of the ball near the goal during the first half of Tuesday night's game at Memorial Stadium. The Titans were defeated by the Lady Cats 2-1.
Photo by Angeli Wright.
Originally published on Tuesday, February 5, 2013
They are an upstart group of girls that have seen and swept aside a number of challengers over the years: the East midfielders.
Together, the group of Rachel Mansker, Morgan Wyatt and Destinee Kueker have helped the Titans out to a strong start to the season.
Despite possessing a midfield that is composed of three underclassmen and has steadily improved, Tuesday showed that they aren't quite there yet.
Madison Hawkins' goal in the 77th minute helped the Titans get back into the game late, but it was not enough to keep East (8-4-1, 1-1) from dropping its first district game of the season to Gregory-Portland.
The Lady Cats (8-5-3, 3-0) scored on its first shot of both halves and made the lead stand up for a 2-1 win over the Titans.
"You never know what's going to happen in a game," said East co-captain Rachel Mansker. "You have to keep going. Our team is really good about not giving up and pushing to the end."
Gregory-Portland head coach Jaclyn Vasquez said she wanted her team to do two things Tuesday night: get an early lead and control possession. The Lady Cats accomplished the first objective with a Brittany Gonzales goal in the third minute. Vasquez's second challenge was met by freshman midfielder, Maryssa Garza.
Having Garza stationed in front of the Lady Cats four defenders accurately spraying passes into space allows Gregory-Portland to devote more players when attacking.
Tuesday was the first of many occasions Garza will match wits with Mansker, Mor Wyatt and Kueker in midfield.
"It was really fun for me," Kueker said afterward. "I was excited to play against a hard team to give me a challenge. I love having Rachel and Morgan play with me."
Kueker is optimistic future contests against Garza and the Lady Cats will go in the Titans' favor.
Having additional outlets in the midfield has allowed East to typically dominate possession and control the pace of most of its games. Considering most of their opponents only have two central midfielders Wyatt said East's 4-3-3 system has given the team an advantage when trying to maintain possession.
"Now I have two options," Wyatt said, noting having three forwards is an added benefit about the Titans new formation. "Last year, I had Rachel. It's helped so much."
The Titans' trio are all underclassmen, and they all play different roles. Mansker is a junior co-captain whose long-range shooting gives East another goalscoring threat. Wyatt, the sophomore, shields the defense, while Kueker, one of two freshmen starters for East, is the creative element stationed between the two.
"They control the ball very well," Vasquez said when asked about East's midfield. "Their touches are very controlled. They see the field and they set up the plays well."
Despite the loss, East is well ahead of its pace from the 2012 season, having won eight games this season.
"It has a lot to do with us getting along together off the field," Wyatt said when asked why the Titans and its midfield have been so successful this year. "There are a lot of friendships going around."