Chilling rain and 13 mph winds weren’t enough to dampen Mercer’s first major home game for the women’s soccer team this past Tuesday night. Second-year head coach Elyse Diamond led the team to their first win of the season against Buck’s County College with a score of 3-1.
Coming into her second year Diamond had the task of preparing the team for opening night with a different line up from the squad that nearly reached the Region 19 championship in 2016. Turnover stripped out several key playmakers from last season. In the midst of wet conditions and an early deficit, the group of freshmen making their Mercer debuts set the pace.
One thing that coach Diamond said was not a concern heading into the game was the motivation of her players.
“They were self-motivated because it was the first game of the season. We’ve been practicing for the last three weeks, so they were excited and pumped up.” Diamond told The VOICE. “I didn’t really have to say much, they were ready.”
That motivation, however, did not translate into early success as passing efficiency was a weak point.
“It was not the best conditions,” Diamond said. “It affected our passing game for sure.”
Mercer failed to score on their first four shots of the game and 41 minutes into the game they found themselves in 1-0 hole after Bucks forward Brooklynn Smith brought the ball down field to score unassisted.
But the Bucks lead only held for 1:15 minutes when Mercer freshman Karli Garzillo scored the tying goal.
“[After] they scored first, those two minutes you’re supposed to push back push back, you can’t let down, I think we countered very well, I think I was just in the right place at the right time.” Garzillo said
Garzillo’s offensive efforts continued toward the end of the first half as she recorded an assist on the go ahead goal by fellow freshmen Taylor Mastropasqua.
“I thought [Karli] hit it in but it actually deflected off the defender” Mastropasqua said.
Coach Diamond, having served as Garzillo’s soccer coach from the days of youth soccer camp through all four years at Nottingham High School, said the performance was solid considering Garzillo had been away from the game for a year.
“I’ve known Karli since she was a baby. I know what she’s capable of.” Diamond said.
At the half, Mercer had a 2-1 lead, but the sky was darker and rain heavier.
The second half of the game was marked by the efforts in defense.
Mary McDermott, Mercer freshman, and Allentown, NJ native, was key in securing the win in the second half.
“We transitioned on defense. We started in a flat back for this game, and we’ve been staying close, not more than ten feet apart from each other.” McDermott told The VOICE. She continued, “A lot of communication has to go on back there. From us talking we really picked up on switching and who has who.”
After playing her entire high school career as an offensive forward player for Allentown, Coach Diamond had McDermott make the transition to a defensive backfield player.
“I saw her size and I just knew we had to put her on defense. She covers a lot of ground for us.” Diamond said.
But McDermott was still able to put her offensive experience as well as her height advantage to use. In the final ten minutes with Mercer holding on to a one point lead, McDermott scored goal with a header off an assist by sophomore Kellyann Krepp.
“I knew I had the height on the team, and I knew that Kelly had the foot. They always send me in from the back so I knew if I made the run and Kelly had the good foot that I could beat them and get there for the goal.” McDermott told to The VOICE.
Bucks head coach Matthew Giordano praised Mercer’s performance telling The VOICE, “The way we looked at this game is ‘let’s use this as training’ because this is probably one of the better teams we’re going to see all year, as far as the teams that we play against. So that’s kinda what we’re using this game for.”
With a roster of 12 freshmen out of the 18 total players, the coach and players agree that learning team chemistry will be an area of focus in their effort to make a run at the Region 19 playoffs.