If the West Holmes versus Ashland boys soccer game on Thursday, Sept. 28 at West Holmes High School was a boxing match, it would have been the equivalent of the Knights trying to fend off a flurry of haymakers being thrown by the Arrows.
Ashland utilized its speed and quickness to force West Holmes to turn much of its attention to the defensive end, and while the defense played well most of the game, the sheer volume of Ashland’s attack eventually overcame the Knights as the Arrows left town with a 3-0 win, scoring two late goals to pull away.
“We knew their team speed was incredible coming in, which is why we had the defensive game plan we did,” West Holmes coach Dave Zimmerly said. “We just couldn’t keep up.”
What hurt more was that the Knights were missing speedy Tyler Masters with an injury, further hampering their ability to keep up with the Arrows’ lightning-quick crew.
Ashland struck first with a goal at the 12th minute when Kaden Mendenhall found himself open in the box and shoveled a shot past Knights’ keeper Brendon Yoder to make it 1-0. It stayed that way through the rest of the half as Zimmerly threw several different defenses at the Arrows to slow down their attack.
The game was well into the second half before the Arrows would strike again to score what would be a huge goal. Team co-captain Daniel Arimi somehow managed to find himself unchecked inside the 18, and he took a pass from the right side and knocked it into the net. There was little Yoder could have done to prevent the goal.
“That was a big goal,” Zimmerly said. “We were not going to generate a lot of offensive opportunities, so we were either going to tie it or they were going to take a two-goal lead and pretty much put things away. That was the game. Either we were going to get something or they were going to find a second and put us away. They did what they had to do.”
It was the latter, and now trailing by two, Zimmerly pulled out all the stops and tried to push his players forward to create some offense. The only trouble with that is that it leaves the defense weakened, and that bit the Knights when co-captain Matthew Martin scorched in a shot with 90 seconds to play.
“We had a couple of early chances, and we were as efficient with the ball in the second half,” Zimmerly said. “Defensively we had to defend a lot, so I’m not going to bash our kids. They gave a great effort. On two of their goals we kind of lost our shape on defense, and they took advantage.”
As for the defensive changes throughout the game, West Holmes started out in a 4-4-1-1 and then shifted to a 5-3-2 with five defenders. Next was a 3-4-1-2, and Zimmerly said they continued to try to disrupt the Arrows’ offense by changing gears and creating confusion.
It worked, but when a team cranks up 18 shots on goal and controls the ball the way Ashland did, it makes it difficult to defend for a full 80 minutes.
“I was happy with our effort,” Zimmerly said, “but in games like this we have to learn how to come ready to play and play with the kind of pace it requires to play at that level. As long as we give the effort, that’s what you want to see.”
The Knights managed four shots, of which one was on goal. Yoder ended the game with nine saves, and the sophomore keeper continues to grow into the role. Zimmerly said he believes his keeper can be a fantastic net-minder for the next two-plus years, noting that he improved immensely over the course of this season alone. Ashland had five corners to one for West Holmes, which fell to 3-7-3 on the year, although their head coach believes that this team is much better than their record would indicate.
However, on this night, too many haymakers left the Knights reeling, and with the incredible talent in the Ohio Cardinal Conference, Zimmerly feels the Knights’ schedule will only help them in tournament play.
“The OCC is very tough this year,” Zimmerly said. “This Ashland team is sitting in fourth, and that says just how good this league is.”