More Versatile County Players Lead to Balanced Scoring in Girls Soccer

More Versatile County Players Lead to Balanced Scoring in Girls Soccer

Less positional soccer allows more players to get involved in offense

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University of Wisconsin recruit Cammie Murtha from Walter Johnson has a county-high 25 goals.

Melissa West

Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School girls soccer teams coached by Rob Kurtz during the 2000s typically featured at least one true scorer, someone the six-time state champion Barons could count on for 20 or more goals each season. In recent years, however, few players have reached double digits.

The trend does not signify less talent, but is a microcosm of an overall pattern in Montgomery County girls soccer over the past decade, in which the traditional leading scorers who tally 20 to 25 goals per season have become few and far between.

“The new way now is you get five or six girls who score five or more goals,” Kurtz said. “There has definitely been a shift, but I don’t know what exactly has caused it.”

Increased versatility among players is one explanation offered by Walter Johnson coach Liz Robinson and Winston Churchill coach Haroot Hakopian. More girls are playing club soccer and are arriving as freshmen with more soccer knowledge and competitive experience. And while on the club side, the effect might be spreading talent too thin, it’s had the opposite impact on high school soccer.

While there are still athletes, such as Walter Johnson’s leading scorer and University of Wisconsin recruit Cammie Murtha (county-high 25 goals), who seem to be able to score virtually at will, teams in general are no longer solely reliant on one or two high scorers. And, even with Murtha’s scoring numbers, she’s also dished out 20 assists; 12 of her teammates have notched at least one goal and six have scored at least four. The range has helped the Wildcats (15-1) to their best season in more than a decade—they defeated Thomas S. Wootton 5-4 Wednesday night to earn their first state tournament appearance since 2002. 

“Now, not only are players seeing a higher level of competition in Maryland, but they’re traveling to other areas, to New Jersey and North Carolina, [and] they’re seeing higher levels and various coaching styles and having to adjust,” Hakopian said. “There’s more depth across the county and it makes the games more fun.”

For example, he said, Churchill’s Bulldogs couldn’t expect to win their regional semifinal against Walter Johnson just by shutting down Murtha. “First of all, that’s difficult to do,” he said. “But even if we did, there are other players on that team that can finish. And that’s why WJ is so dangerous this year. You could maybe keep Cammie from scoring, but then she’ll just lay the ball out to another player to score. It’s not like it’s either Cammie or no one.”

Robinson said the increased competitiveness and need for players to separate themselves if they want to be noticed by college coaches could also explain the trend resulting in more dynamic athletes.

But the evolution of soccer, in general, and the way it’s played, with multiple formations, has also led to the need for more versatility. The game is no longer positional. Forwards need to defend more and defenders are encouraged to come forward, Robinson said.

Thirteen of the 15 players on Churchill’s roster scored at least one goal and the Bulldogs’ leading scorer, University of North Carolina, Wilmington,  recruit Frannie Phillips, is a defender—she was also second on the team in assists.

Sixteen players scored for traditional county power Walt Whitman this fall—Mary Dimitrov led the way with eight—and 18 players scored for B-CC, with no one reaching double digits. The The Connelly School of the Holy Child enjoyed its best season in recent history and the Tigers’ two leading scorers—McKenzie Crafton and Jen Gribble—notched six goals apiece; nine other players added at least one, and five of them contributed two or more. 

With more versatile and experienced soccer players to work with, high school coaches no longer need to simplify their approach, Hakopian said.

“When I played, the majority of the teams played sweeper/stopper [defense] and the sweeper never, ever got into the attack,” Hakopian said. “It’s a progression and the game is evolving and players and coaches are understanding that. Truly the top-level players aren’t necessarily [thinking], ‘Hey, I’m just a defender and I’m not going to score goals.’ It’s not just attacking or just defending anymore.”

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