Thanks to Brown, Wabash goes down
Senior’s late goal lifts RHS to season-opening win
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
WABASH — There is no clock or scoreboard at the Morrett Sports Complex.
Still, the Rochester girls soccer team had to know time was running out on them against host Wabash Saturday.
That’s when senior Mercedes Brown made a play. She stole a punt from Wabash goalkeeper Hannah Layne, got the ball under control and fired a shot into the open net with under two minutes left to lift the Lady Zs to a 1-0 win.
“It was just breathtaking,” Brown said. “I’ve been working all game to get a goal. We were pushing really hard because this is our first game and we’ve only had 10 practices before.So I was a little nervous coming in, but I was working hard, staying with the line and just cheering on my teammates, and I am just glad that the goalie had a bad kick, and I was paying attention and very focused.”
Even though it was their season opener, it might have been crucial to RHS’ Three Rivers Conference title hopes. Wabash came in 3-0-1 overall and 3-0 in TRC play, including wins over defending conference champ Manchester, Peru and North Miami.
Meanwhile, RHS was playing their first game after coronavirus exposure within the school caused in-class learning and fall sports to be delayed from Aug. 3 to Aug. 24.
“Oh my God, huge,” RHS coach Chantal Rensberger said of the win. “This was the first game of the season for us because we’ve had some issues with school being closed. So they’re coming in 3-0-1 on the season and 3-0 in conference beating huge rivals like Manchester. We knew they were coming to play.”
Baked by the warm sun, the field was patchy and dusty.
“This field is a hard field to play on,” Rensberger said. “It’s very hard, it’s very dry, and it’s very bouncy. And the things we’ve been working on the past two weeks, we couldn’t do because the ball moved too quickly. So it is a huge, huge win because it takes them down on the TRC rankings and puts us on top right now because we’re 1-0.”
Rensberger said the team had been conditioning for four or five weeks prior to Aug. 3. Then they had to stop.
She said they were paying attention to how other teams in the area were doing while they laid low. It only created stress, according to Rensberger.
“Even as a coach - and I’m assuming it’s for the players too - you always have it in the back of the head like, ‘Oh, all these teams we normally beat 4-0, 5-0, they’re already playing and they’re winning and what’s happening?’
“So there were nerves, I think. I burst into tears after we won because there was so much nerves getting to this point. And making sure we do get that first win and getting that first goal. Because as soon as we scored, even though there was a minute left, there was so much more momentum after that first goal.”
Top newcomers include freshmen Lilli Eaton and Brylee Elliott, according to Rensberger. Eaton is a playmaking midfielder with travel soccer experience, and Elliott is a midfielder-forward with good quickness.
Brown is one of six seniors, including Abbi Richard, Dallas Holloway, Tessa Brooks, Ellie Shank and Krista Dillingham. She said it’s been intense and mentally challenging to get ready for the season after three weeks off. They are trying to incorporate the newcomers like Eaton and Elliott into the lineup while building up their conditioning.
“Lilli just knows the field and knows the game,” Brown said.
Brown also said she had to adjust her play due to the graduation of Jordan Jennings. Brown led the team with 12 goals last season, and Jennings led the team with 12 assists. Many of her assists came from the right flank with feeds to Brown in the middle.
“It was the best feeling in the world with a minute left as a senior,” Brown said