Make it seven regular-season shutouts for the 2A Conference Northland Prep girls soccer team this season.
The top-ranked Spartans scored seven goals in the first half en route to a 9-0 mercy-rule win against No. 10 Page Thursday at Sinagua Middle School. The Spartans remained perfect at 8-0 overall and 3-0 in the Central Region with the win while Page fell to 1-9 and 0-3.
Ellie Karren scored a game-high three goals to go with two assists, Mia Blair found the back of the net twice and added one assist while a few other Spartans contributed on offense. Sydney Sventek, Ginger Blodgett and Alyssa Sturm each recorded a goal and an assist. Sophie Young also added in a goal in the dominant victory.
The Spartans’ offense hasn’t missed a beat this season despite being down last season’s top passer Kiarra Hovis, who is out for the season with a torn ACL.
Northland Prep has scored 61 goals in the regular season -- which could be higher if not for the new mercy rule -- while allowing just three goals, all coming in the extra time win at Chino Valley.
For co-head coaches Michael Blair and Keith Hovis, playing more patient soccer and taking better care of possession have been key for the Spartans. Forcing defenses to move side to side, not just up and down the field, has given the team a new option on offense to find the right holes, even when teams pack in on defense.
“When we play simple, everybody gets involved and we can put the ball anywhere we want it,” Michael Blair said. “Playing simple is super huge. It’s us getting the ball on the ground on a crazy windy day, which allows us to take control. Page sat in on us, and we knew it was going to happen so the girls worked the ball side to side and used all the space.”
The Sand Devils did what most teams tend to do against the Spartans, load the backline and try to stop Northland Prep's potent offense. The middle was clogged for much of the match, but the players did as their coaches wanted and worked the ball around, using all angles on the field.
As good as the top line of the Spartans offense has been, someone has to get them the ball to them. That’s where Rylee Reed comes in.
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Keith Hovis pointed her out in her ability to hold down the middle and make plays coming up to get the offense moving downfield off a turnover. Reed, who had one assist in the win over Page, doesn’t pop out on the stat sheet, but entering Thursday she recorded the most minutes played of any Spartan.
“A lot of times we’re playing our three best players up top,” Keith Hovis said. “So, they have to get the ball, and Rylee has done a good job of getting them the ball.”
Sventek has played a similar role as Kiarra Hovis did last season, with both players mirroring each other on the stat sheet.
Last season, as a sophomore playing in place of an injured Mia Blair, Kiarra Hovis took on more of a facilitator role while still hunting for her chances at the net. She led the Spartans in assists at 32, was third in goals at 20 and led the Spartans in total shots at 96.
Sventek, now in her sophomore year and playing in a similar spot to Kiarra Hovis, is first on the team in assists with 26, third in goals with 15 and is third in total shots at 32. So, even though Sventek doesn’t hunt for her shot quite like Kiarra Hovis did before her injury, her numbers stack up as she has shown her improvement after a solid freshman season.
“I think she’s maturing as a player -- which is so cool to see all the girls as they do that,” Michael Blair said. “Sydney is maturing, so she is knowing when to go, when to connect, when to play fast and when to play slow.”
Sventek’s lone goal against Page came off a long lead pass from Karren that Sventek methodically took into the box to beat the Page goalkeeper on a one-on-one.
The Spartans host No. 3 Blue Ridge (6-0-1, 3-0-1 East Region) Monday at 4 p.m. at Sinagua Middle School.