When looking at the statistics it is hard to believe that the Loudoun County girls soccer team has had shooting difficulties this season. The defending Northwestern District champion has accumulated 36 goals in just eight games, bringing its record to 4-1, 6-2 overall to tie for the lead with Broad Run. Carla Rollins, a junior, has put away 14 goals for the Raiders, and team shooting percentages were up to 25 percent (10 is considered the average) in a 7-1 victory over Osbourn last week. Freshman Jennifer Johnson's passing accuracy allowed her to assist five of those goals, bringing her season total to 11. Senior Dawn Tarner, who regularly plays defense, has scored four goals in her few opportunities on offense.
Despite high scoring -- the Raiders had seven or more goals in half of their games -- every player is likely to describe a deficiency in shooting.
"Our accuracy is off," explained freshman Kristen DiMillio. "We're not taking our time. We're rushing our shots."
It is a point of agreement among them that accuracy is the main problem. According to Rollins the offense is fast and the shots are powerful but the Raiders are "not concentrating on shooting." Many of the attempts are just wide or over the net. Coach Jean Armstrong says "laziness" is the cause of faulty shooting and, with 12 freshman, many of them starters, lack of varsity experience may also be a factor.
But the Raiders are slowly reversing the problem. Practices regularly focus on shooting drills to improve precision. Recent seminars conducted by former George Mason University coach Dick Broad have helped Loudoun County concentrate on better form and placement of the ball. The extra emphasis on shooting has paid off in recent weeks, even more so after a tough 1-0 loss to rival Broad Run.
Armstrong, who has coached the Raiders for six years with the assistance of Joy Bundy, rarely works on the basics with her team. She says the players have been learning the fundamentals for years on the select teams many of them play on. Her toughest task is to get them to work together, to become a team. It is teamwork that has helped Loudoun County control the district since last season. The strong offense connects good timing, accurate passing and good ball control, both on the ground and in the air, to break down opposing defenses. The midfield is effective in dribbling down the field and using the open space to feed the ball to the forwards. Tarner's aggressive style helps the Raiders gain possession and create key plays. Tarner teams up with senior co-captain Jennifer Horne and freshman Joy Ambers to effectively protect freshman goalkeeper Becca Nelson.
However, against Broad Run, the district runner-up, teamwork was lacking. "We went out there thinking they (The Spartans) were going to be easy," Johnson said. "We didn't play well as a team," Tarner added.
The Spartans strong defense, led by three-time all-District sweeper Lisa Poole, shut down Loudoun County's forward line. Halfway through the second half Poole went up to help on a Jenny Horsley corner kick and converted it into the Spartans' winning goal.
"Both teams are real aggressive and the game was very evenly played. The hardest part is that they are very fast," Broad Run Coach Susan Paddeu said. "We just had to make sure that we got our plays off quickly. It was definitely a tough game."
The Raiders attitudes are very optimistic. "They don't get real quiet or nervy," Armstrong said. But she admitted they may be overly optimistic at times, such as in the Broad Run game. That was all part of the learning process according to Armstrong.
"That game was a big letdown. I guess it taught us a lesson," Armstrong explained. "At practice the next day it really showed. They all gave 110 percent. We hope to meet them again and give them a real good game. Maybe it was good for us to have a loss."
That was the first district loss for the defending champions since 1985. Last season they went undefeated and allowed only one tie. The Raiders will have an opportunity to avenge their loss when they meet Broad Run again next Thursday.
Loudoun County's only other threat this season was Park View. But County defeated the Patriots, 3-2, who also fell to Broad Run to clearly define the district's top teams. Loudoun Valley and Osbourn have lost twice to Loudoun County.
Armstrong and the Raiders are confident that past mistakes will not be repeated and that they will make it tougher on the Spartans the second time around.