Skill, chemistry key to soccer playoff hopes
The Eastern Michigan University women’s soccer team defeated their first Mid-American Conference opponent of the season Friday when they beat Northern Illinois University 1-0 on a penalty kick in the sixty-fourth minute.
The Eagles finished last season with an overall record of 3-13-2. Head coach Scott Hall said last year’s team had talent, but is excited for this team to bring it all together. So far this season, the Eagles have an overall record of 4-3-1.
“Our training is getting better every day,” Hall said. “We have been cutting down on the mistakes and taking advantage of those opportunities we get. Talent-wise we can hang with everyone.”
Eagles midfielder Stephanie Clarke said she thinks everyone is on the same page this year.
“We’re sick of losing,” Clarke said. “This year, the chemistry is much better. The first week everyone was clicking and connecting off each other. We have about eight to nine new freshman with lots of talent. It seems that everyone is comfortable right now. We don’t want what happened like last year. We’ve even been putting in more work, so it won’t happen like last year.”
This year’s soccer team, much like last year’s team, is young and full of underclassmen. Coach Hall has 17 underclassmen and seven upperclassmen on his team this season.
“I feel old,” Clarke said. “I’m not that old. I still feel like a freshman walking around campus. It’s cool that I can help the freshmen out though.”
Clarke is originally from London, Ontario where she went to St. Thomas Aquinas High School and played soccer, badminton, volleyball and cross country.
These days Clarke can be found practicing alongside her soccer teammates in the bubble gym between classes.
“We’ve been doing much better than last year,” Clarke said. “We’re finishing off games. We’re producing more assists. We’re scoring more goals. We want to be atop the MAC and get a NCAA berth. That’s the ultimate goal.”
Hall said the team’s good play and leadership is going to have to come from the midfielder position.
“When she [Clarke] is into the game, we will be good for the day,” Hall said. “She helps settle down our team. Clarke’s good; she’s consistent. We are good when we feed off of her.”
Hall isn’t worried about placing too much pressure on his junior midfielder and said he has high standards for her.
“She can handle it,” he said. “She has great service, set pieces and corners. She is smooth with the ball. She has a good striking ability. She is mild mannered. Overall, she is good for the team.”
Emily Kowalzyk has been a teammate of Clarke’s for three years now and is currently living with her.
She said she is as goofy as they come when they aren’t practicing or having a match. However, when it comes to business she can be very quiet.
“She is a quiet player on the field. When she needs to do so, she’ll speak up. She doesn’t need to though. You see her skill; you’re impressed. She is very smart. You can tell on the field,” Kowalzyk said.
“We’re goofy, weird together. We’re loud. In school, Stephanie is very studious. She cares about her grades and all that. She likes to get work done. She is not quiet off the field though,” Kowalzyk said.
As a midfielder, Clarke is the tone setter for her team and the flow of game starts with her.
“As a midfielder, I can’t be dribbling too much. At the same time, I have to be everywhere on the field. I like to cross and contribute offensively. I’m a playmaker on the field, always on the move. I’m defending; I’m attacking. The ball comes through me,” Clarke said.
Hall said Clarke leads by example and has a high soccer IQ.
“She brings international flair,” Hall said.
“She’s a no-drama type of kid. She is very good in the classroom, very well-spoken. She’s just a nice all-around student-athlete. Someone you can definitely count on.”
Look for Clarke and the Eagles to continue to improve their turn-around this season. They’ve got the talent, a fresh start and the smarts to get it done.