Girls Soccer: Niles West bouncing back after rough startNiles West junior Molly Kleppin (left) dribbles the ball down field against Evanston freshman Maureen Kerr during a varsity soccer game in Evanston on Friday, April 13, 2012. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 16, 2012 7:45PM
In setting his team’s schedule for the 2012 season, Niles West girls soccer coach Brett Clish chose an option which most coaches would avoid.
Clish scheduled the majority of Niles West’s most difficult opponents for the first week of the season. Niles West played Deerfield, Glenbrook North, New Trier and Maine South in its first four games, all resulting in losses.
Scheduling such a demanding start to the season was a risky strategy. The Wolves were outscored 18-4 during their first four games.
But once Niles West advanced into the second week of the season, it began winning. Since dropping its first four games, Niles West fashioned a 4-1-1 mark, including a come-from-behind, 3-1 victory over Niles North in one of the most important matches of the season.
“I think our tough schedule at the beginning of the season is starting to pay off now,” Clish said. “The girls do realize, (in) a lot of the harder (games), we did pretty well at the beginning with New Trier, Maine South, Deerfield, Glenbrook North. We’ve played a lot of tough ones already, and I purposely did do that to make sure that they are then ready to play some of the other teams.”
Although Niles West lost each of its first four games by at least two goals, it grew more comfortable playing with minimal possession. While some teams might get frustrated as time fades away without many scoring chances, Niles West showed the determination to keep pressing on.
Despite getting out-shot by Libertyville and Niles North, Niles West came through in the second half of both matches.
In last week’s match between district rivals, Niles North dominated possession and held the ball to such an extent that Niles West was only able to generate four shots in all.
But by playing strong defense, anchored by reigning all-conference player Nicole Ostro and aggressive goalkeeper Jackie Cardenas, Niles West overcame a first-half goal to win the match, when Molly Kleppin headed in a goal with less than four minutes remaining.
“I would say, in many conference games, and even cross-conference, we are used to the other team controlling a lot of the game,” Kleppin said. “We just kind of keep it back in defense and midfield, and keep it together.”
The Wolves — joyously congregating at midfield to accept the crosstown trophy — showed how much the victory meant.
“I feel confident that we’ll win most of our other games,” Cardenas said.
After playing to a scoreless draw against Evanston on Friday, Niles West will compete in its own tournament this weekend. The Wolves hope to continue applying positives while simultaneously ignoring the negatives of losing four matches to start the season.
“I think they are realizing that’s benefiting us,” Clish said. “Even though we had five losses in that span, competition-wise we were in most of the games, to an extent. That’s what’s helping.”