Pack on the attack
Pressure is a funny thing, it has the power to make people buckle or turn coal into diamonds. For Washington girls’ soccer coach Ed Rodriguez, he is hoping that enough pressure can lead the Pam Pack to its first ever district championship when the team takes on Jacksonville on the road today at 6 p.m.
Pressure has been the key element during Washington’s historic playoff run as the fifth-seeded Pam Pack (12-9, Coastal Conference) stunned No. 1 C.B. Aycock (16-4, Eastern Carolina) 7-3 in the first round of the NCHSAA 3-A playoffs before topping No. 4 Northern Nash (13-8, Big East) 5-1 to earn back-to-back playoff victories for the first time in school history.
While Washington’s 12 goals in two games is no doubt impressive, Rodriguez said it’s the team’s suffocating defense that has breathed life into the Pack’s playoff run.
“Come playoffs people are not used to having somebody pressure them for 80 minutes,” Rodriguez said. “There are some teams that will look to pass the ball and beat you with their skill but we are pressuring the ball and have enough skill to start offensive play. We can score too. We have had about 90 goals this season which is pretty high.”
Rodriguez said his team’s defensive style of play is made possible by having the luxury of depth.
“It’s been the whole team,” Rodriguez said. “I sub a lot on my defensive midfield and at times all of them have made great contributions.”
At the backend of that defense is freshman keeper Emily Alligood, who has come back to the team after sustaining a concussion late in the regular season. Rodriguez said the growth of Alligood has led to big things for Washington.
“She is completely different from the beginning of the year. She has really learned the position,” Rodriguez said. “She has learned to communicate and she has learned that at times she needs to get the ball back and distribute it back up the field. She has matured as a goalie.”
Alligood is not the only one who has grown leaps and bounds since the beginning of the season. After losing the school’s all-time scoring leader Beth Batchelor, who is now playing for East Carolina University, the whole team has had to come together and pick up the slack in her absence. However, while some people may be surprised by what Washington has done so far, Rodriguez is not.
“I honestly thought we could do this. The whole year we played with intensity,” Rodriguez said. “We are the fifth seed but we are good enough to be a No. 1 in a lot of conferences.”
While the defense has raised its level of play, so has the offense. Sophomore Alana Jefferson has been on fire as she scored a hat trick during the Pack’s 5-1 win over Northern Nash and added two goals during their 7-3 victory over C.B. Aycock.
Also frequently finding the back of the net has been junior Emily Bohn and sophomore Christian Heggie who have each recorded three goals this postseason while fellow sophomore Harley Hudson has scored once.
Washington, the 16th-ranked 3-A team in the state according to the website EurosportScoreboard.com, will need another outstanding team effort tonight if it wants to bring home a district title as it will take on Coastal Conference champs and No. 1 seed Jacksonville (19-2), who is ranked fifth in state by the same website.
While the Pack have been able to battle from deficits in its first two playoff wins, the key tonight will be to not let the Cardinals get off to a hot start.
“We can’t get down early. The first 20 minutes we need to have an even score,” Rodriguez said. “We have to keep them from making easy plays by not putting the ball in bad positions and put pressure on them continuously.”