FREWSBURG - When the weather gets rotten, the game changes.
Footing is perilous, the game slows down, passing requires more precision and maneuvering and dribbling are increasingly difficult. Soccer becomes a game where, more than ever, possession and, by extension, limiting an opponent's offensive opportunities, is paramount.
Even the ball feels different.
Above, Maple Grove’s Jesse Pardue (14) dribbles between Frewsburg’s Jesse Ernewein (11) and Tyrel Adelgren (19) during Tuesday’s Division 3 soccer game. Below, the Red Dragons’ David Meekins heads a ball. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photos by Rob Tucker
"The ball weighs about 600 pounds when it's wet," Maple Grove co-coach Jerry Pardue said with a laugh, "so when it rains it's like kicking a bowling ball down the field."
It's for those aforementioned reasons that the Red Dragons, even on sunny days, train for the worst.
"We have a lot of small-side games that we play where we practice by taking the air out of the ball," Pardue said. "and that way the team, especially the midfielders, get better with their one-touch passing and they know what's going to happen when the (poor weather) game starts."
That hard work in between games showed on a wet and windy Tuesday afternoon against Frewsburg (3-2, 2-2), as the Red Dragons took an early one-goal lead in the first half and then, with a solid possession game, limited the Bears' opportunities in the second - when the weather really got bad - to capture a 2-0 Division 3 victory.
"If they don't have the ball," Pardue said, "they can't score. Whenever we play an away game like this against a division opponent you know it's going to be a tough, low-scoring game. So we try to possess the ball."
And with their talented defense, it's a strategy that's been working thus far this season.
"We like to build from the back. We put our best athletes and our fastest kids on defense," Pardue said, "and (goalie) Kyle Richardson has been phenomenal. We've given up one goal this year, so something must be working."
That lone goal was scored by Ellicottville over 485 minutes ago - that's a span of five games - and has been the reason Maple Grove, the fifth-ranked small school in Section 6, currently sports a 6-0-1 overall record and a 4-0 league record.
Erik Olson tallied his team-leading ninth goal of the season with 27 minutes remaining in the opening half off a pass from freshman teammate Patrick Crossley to give Maple Grove a 1-0 advantage and from there the visiting squad settled into its defensive game.
That's exactly the type of game Pardue wants to play in rough weather.
"We always want that first goal and always strive for it because then we can play defense (and protect the lead)," Pardue said.
Struggling to put together much of an offensive attack, the Bears' scoring chances were few and far between. They managed just three shots on goal in the opening 40 minutes and only a pair of shots, neither of which were on net, in the second.
"We just couldn't get any opportunities," Frewsburg coach Mark Jackson said. "Maple Grove is a good team."
The score remained 1-0 until the game's waning moments when, at the 77-minute mark, Nick Swanson broke free of his defender out in front of the net, started right, turned left and fired a shot at Frewsburg goaltender Justin Randall. Randall appeared to make the diving stop, but he was unable to hold on to the slick ball and it careened off the post and into the net.
Maple Grove is back in action against West Valley on Thursday while Frewsburg will travel to Ellicottville. Both games scheduled at 4:30 p.m.