CLIFTON PARK — Minutes into the second half Saturday against Averill Park, the Shenendehowa girls’ soccer team found itself trailing for the first time all season.
Shenendehowa had dominated the game’s opening 40 minutes, but couldn’t produce a goal, and were caught on the back foot by an aggressive start to the second half from Averill Park that paid off in the form of a strike from Gabriele Geise.
Sophia DeMura knew that the most important thing was not to panic.
“It not only helps me,” DeMura said, “but it helps everyone else just to know that people are calm and composed.”
DeMura, a senior defender and one of the team’s four captains, is a calming and controlling presence for an undefeated Shenendehowa team that quickly bounced back from falling behind to take a 2-1 lead, then held on in a wild finish that saw DeMura whistled for a foul that resulted in an Averill Park penalty kick with 22 seconds left, only for goalkeeper Maddie Franklin to come up with the save that preserved the victory.
From her spot at the heart of coach Holli Nirsberger’s defense, DeMura typically controls the tempo of the game for Shenendehowa. Her play is a big reason why the 5-0-1 Plainsmen have allowed just two goals through six games.
In the first half against Averill Park, DeMura’s play was a big reason why Shenendehowa controlled the vast majority of possession, as she shut down a number of speculative counterattacks and circulated the ball to her teammates.
But, after Averill Park went up early in the second half and with the Shenendehowa offense unable to get going, Nirsberger made the call to utilize her team’s speed and DeMura’s passing ability to utilize a more direct attacking style.
“We’ve got speed, but we weren’t able to create in the attacking third,” Nirsberger said. “We had to go to a more direct style.”
That allowed DeMura to show off another facet of her game as she started spraying long passes that opened up opportunities for several of her speedy teammates.
“We started playing direct, just playing everything out of the back to get us more opportunities to score,” DeMura said. “We’re able to switch the way we play very easily, if we are in need to do that.”
While none of DeMura’s long passes led directly to goals, they did help open up the game.
They also led to the set piece opportunities that did produce both Shenendehowa goals; and perhaps unsurprisingly, it was DeMura who stepped up to play the ball in on both of those set plays.
First, it was a corner kick which led to a scramble that Ella White converted for the tying goal. Then, less than two minutes later, DeMura curled in a free kick from the left wing that found its way to Gloria Kokkinedes for the winning goal.
“We’re looking at finishing even more of those,” Nirsberger said. “She’s always putting quality balls in the mix for us.”