By Brenden West Assistant Sports Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — CLINTON — Tuesday’s contest started as a blitz and ended in a blank in the Clinton High score column.
Through 80 minutes of play, the River Queens soccer team rarely pushed the ball on the offensive side of the field and spent most of the game fending off a barrage of Pleasant Valley scoring attempts.
The Spartans still scored seven times, with five in the first half. Clinton goalkeeper Hannah Dehner was replaced in the second half after wet conditions turned several would-be saves into goals.
Meanwhile, Bekah Allen led Pleasant Valley, netting a hat trick early in the second half, and feeding teammate Stephanie D’Cruz for the game’s final goal, the score (by then) out of reach at 7-0.
In all, the Spartans had 18 shots on goal compared with Clinton’s one (which was easily saved by Pleasant Valley keeper Cora Meyers). Yet, if there’s room for optimism, Clinton co-coaches Spencer Mesick (second year) and Bill Feaster (first) were emboldened by a couple of things.
“This team, last year, 10-goaled us two minutes into the second half,” Mesick said. In fact, the Spartans had put up double digits on Clinton each of the past four seasons.
“We’re playing everyone a lot closer than we did in the past,” Feaster added. “Last week, we went down to Muscatine and shut them out for the first three-quarters of the game. We took the loss, but it was pretty darn close.”
This year’s Queens rely heavily on freshmen talent. They are without last year’s leading scorer — 2012 graduate Paige Barsema, who had 18 total points — and the coaches are still waiting for someone to fill that void. Freshman Emma Gettes remains the team’s only goal-getter with one on the season.
“There’s no person who’s our go-to,” Mesick said. “It’s going to take a full-team effort to get wins.”
Their goal this year is to improve on last year’s 7-10 record. And although Clinton was beat out by one of the state’s top-rated teams, even Pleasant Valley’s coach commended the 2013 squad.
“That’s the most organized I’ve seen Clinton in the last five years,” said Richard Markham (who also coaches the Ashford University mens teams). “It’s a steppingstone process. The key is to get better and better.
“Today, I saw a team that tried to possess the ball. They’re on the right track.”
Feaster said the girls were discouraged going into halftime. He credited senior leadership with pushing the team and picking up morale in the second half. Behind freshman keeper Krista Atkinson (six saves, two goals allowed), the Queens allowed only eight shots on goal, compared with 14 in the first half.
“We were able to challenge them and make it tougher for (Pleasant Valley) to get a shot off,” Feaster said. “It’s hard to defend their speed. But we told the girls to step up, keep your heads up and get after it.”
There will be a lot of adjusting and experiments with this group. However, both coaches said they were optimistic to see how this year’s team will turn out.
“The main point is to see drastic improvement from last year to this year,” Mesick said.
Several players are being asked to step into new positions, and the staff feels that everyone on the team is malleable to fit the Queens’ objectives.
“We’ve got a lot of girls who are willing to play where we ask them to,” Feaster said. “There’s girls that will just run and run all night if we ask them to. That’s what we’re looking for.”