Let the ball do the work.
It’s a different philosophy from what Rachel Morgan and the St. Michael’s Lady Horsemen are accustomed to, but they see the benefits of what new head coach Maggie Feil is teaching.
Dribbling for more than two or three touches is out. Instead, the Lady Horsemen pass the ball in quick, short bursts, and it accomplishes what a 20-30 yard jaunt does — without expending as much energy.
“Compared to last year, we’re letting the ball do the work instead of us running around,” St. Michael’s junior striker Rachel Morgan said. “I think that’s a big difference, and we’re keeping our energy up by passing so much.”
The “sharing is caring” approach has paid off handsomely so far. After a 5-3 win over Class 4A Los Alamos, the 1A/3A Lady Horsemen find themselves at 6-2 and averaging 4.5 goals per match.
What’s more important to Feil, though, are the 20 assists from 10 players on the season. That total includes two from goalkeeper Milena Keene, who recorded one in the second half against the Lady Hilltoppers when she boomed her kick over the top of the Los Alamos defense to Morgan. She ended the play by flipping her shot over Los Alamos ’keeper Annika Fox’s head and into the empty net for a 5-3 lead in the 54th minute. The play underscored Feil’s philosophy about sharing the ball and having a more diverse attack.
“There is a lot of talent with these girls, offensively and defensively, to be honest,” Feil said. “I think our strategy as a team is to display a united front with a solid effort of teamwork. We, from the get-go, knew that our strength was as a team and everybody touching the ball and getting everybody involved in every single play.”
Morgan leads the team with eight goals, but the Lady Horsemen have four other players with at least four goals. It’s a departure from past teams, which often feature a key striker who scored at a high-volume surrounded by capable complimentary pieces who worked well off of opponents keying on one player. In this year’s attack, it makes opponents have to focus their defense on more than one player.
“Last year, we had a senior who was very good [Claire Lee, who had a team-high 28 goals],” Lady Horsemen junior Olivia Farrar said. “She made all the runs. She did everything, so you just play her. This year, we need to work together to get the ball forward instead of one person.”
Much of that can be attributed to Feil’s staple that less is more when it comes to ball handling. She instituted a rule that the players could have no more than three touches on the dribble before passing to a teammate. But it wasn’t just about passing the ball to the next person. The Lady Horsemen move the ball upfield, as they try to push the pace to their liking and catch the opposing defense on its feels.
The style takes plenty of communication and trust, and Farrar said the team has developed that. She credits part of that to the Lady Horsemen hanging out together during lunch as a means of team bonding. On the field, Farrar said the players understand what each other can do with the ball and try to pass to teammates in spots that accentuate their skills.
“We do it every single day, so we know each other so well,” Farrar said. “This is like my family. These are my best friends. It’s really easy to talk to easy other, because if we didn’t get along, the communication on the field just wouldn’t be the same.”
St. Michael’s also has a unique roster in which it has just one senior playing significant minutes in Daisy Smith, but is dominated by juniors and freshmen making significant contributions. Morgan, Farrar (whose opened the scoring with her fourth goal against Los Alamos) and Fran Schneider are a part of the group that has at least four goals, as is freshman Grace Sandoval.
Feil, though, said the upperclassmen are the leaders, but she feels they are setting a good example for younger players coming up in the program.
“They lead by example,” Feil said. “They’ve stepped up their level of passion, and their intensity on the field,” Feil said. “The younger girls see it and they follow it.”
The Lady Horsemen learned a lesson a few days earlier about playing with confidence when they let a 3-1 lead slip away Saturday in a 4-3 loss at Socorro.
On Tuesday, Farrar gave St. Michael’s the 1-0 lead just two minutes into the match, but Los Alamos took a 2-1 lead on Kaitlyn McGrane’s goal from 30 yards out in the 15th minute.
The teams traded goals until Morgan took a quick pass from Sandoval along the right flank and knocked her shot off of Fox and into the goal for a 4-3 lead.
Standouts: Morgan had a pair of goals to lead the St. Michael’s attack, while Smith had a goal and an assist. McGrane, Alyssa Parker and Tara McDonald each had goals for Los Alamos
What’s next: St. Michael’s travels to Kirtland Central on Saturday. The Lady Hilltoppers (1-2-1) plays Piedra Vista in the opening round of the Albuquerque Academy Invitational on Thursday.