Chaparral girls soccer eyes postseason prominence despite premier 6A appearance

The Chaparral defense swarms the ball handler. (Photo courtesy of Shari Miller/ SLM Images)

Despite a new season, a new region and a new division, Chaparral High School’s girls soccer team is still a dominant force.

Standing on the precipice of another postseason, this time in 6A, the Firebirds roost among the top teams in their new division. They’ve reached this point thanks, in part, to a stifling defense.

Prior to Chaparral’s Feb. 1 regular season-closer against Pinnacle High School, the Firebirds have allowed six goals this season. That puts them on pace to allow less goals than a year ago when they won the state championship.

From a year ago, Chaparral lost one defender who graduated and a couple to the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.

Head Coach Robyn Carlson said, however, that didn’t slow the team’s progress as several players worked their way into the defensive rotation.

“We have great defenders and a great goalkeeper and we have defensive team defense,” she said. “You can’t just rely on defenders to defend. It’s got to be a whole team defense and offense.”

Senior Taylor Rowe makes a save. (Photo courtesy of Shari Miller/ SLM Images)

Senior goalkeeper Taylor Rowe started at goalkeeper last year as well. She says the credit goes to her backline as to the success the team is having.

“They’ve been working really hard together,” she said. “Our centerbacks are tanks. They’ve been knocking players down in the middle and on the outside, they’ve just been running up and down, making things happen.”

In working with the backline, Rowe said they’ve created a solid bond she describes as “constructive but at the same time, a teamwork relationship.”

When the team’s defense is playing well, it trickles down the rest of the field and offensive players feel it on their end. One benefit Coach Carlson sees is the added confidence a shutout or low goals scored can bring to a team.

Attacking midfielder Sydney Merkow said a lot of their opponents play direct passes to fast players, but the Firebirds know how to cover that style of play. This allows, Merkow said, for the offense to get in better position on their end to score.

This quick transition, Coach Carlson said, really helps, especially since the Firebirds’ have a tough schedule.

With six goals allowed, the offense has capitalized with 64 goals scored as of Thursday, Jan. 31. Junior Isabella Struckman and senior Keeley Bond lead the Firebirds’ goal-scoring efforts.

Merkow, who helps significantly with assists, credited a strong team unity that shines as players take the time to encourage each other after tough moments. This has come in handy as Merkow said the offense is facing tougher defenses than it did a year ago.

Senior Keeley Bond (12) heads the ball toward the goal. (Photo courtesy of Shari Miller/ SLM Images)

To get that team unity, Coach Carlson said she does stress it to her team, but also tries to put them in situations where they can spend time together both on and off the field. In particular, she said she is impressed with how her seniors have been leaders this year.

“I think the most amazing part of high school soccer is you have freshmen playing with seniors and sophomores,” she said.

“You develop so much as a player. As a younger player, they learn so much from the more experienced players and then the more experienced players take on a role of being leaders, which I think just makes them come together.”

The 6A postseason start Thursday, Feb. 7 with play-in competition. The state tournament begins Saturday, Feb. 9.
With the playoffs on the horizon, Chaparral will look to defend its state championship crown, this time in 6A. Coach

Carlson said her approach will be one game at a time.
Rowe said sometimes, the team can lose focus and that is where it gets in trouble.

“We just need to keep our focus, keep as strong as we are and keep our confidence because we’ve been doing really well and we can’t get scared of the big team and the big names,” Rowe said.

News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at jmartinez@newszap.com or at 623-445-2738

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