Rob Rowe made some changes in his approach to coaching soccer for his third season as the head girls coach at Freeman.
“I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie ‘Coach Carter,’ but there’s a scene where he basically tells his basketball team that he can’t teach them what he wants to teach them until they’re in shape and have developed some basketball skills,” Rowe explained. “I just realized that I was trying to be too technical in what I was trying to teach them. This year I’ve tried to focus more on developing ball skills like dribbling and passing.
“I think they’ve only been playing soccer at Freeman now for about six years, so there isn’t a deep history here in the game.”
Soccer hasn’t been a primary sport at the Class 1A school, taking a backseat to volleyball, basketball and softball. Still, the team is building a foundation. A year ago the Scotties won their district playoff game, but lost at the tri-district tournament.
This year started slowly. The team lost its opener to North Central – jumping up two classifications for the match, a 3-0 loss. And then the team dropped its opener to Newport, 7-1.
“We got spanked pretty good, and I think there was some grumbling – you know, ‘here we go again’ kind of stuff,” Rowe said. “But then we started to put things together.”
Rowe is a big fan of Dutch soccer, and if he had his druthers, he’d have his team play the possession game that fueled the Netherlands’ run through the World Cup. But that would require some elite-level ball skills.
When you’re starting players who are playing the game for the first time, you can’t expect your team to have those kinds of skills.
“I’ve always thought that, if you’re a good athlete, you can learn to play soccer pretty quickly,” Rowe said. “We have some basketball players, and I’ve helped coach freshman and JV basketball at Post Falls. I’ve adapted some drills from basketball to help us learn.”
So instead of reaching for pie in the sky, Rowe has stressed tough, hard-nosed defense, and by the third game of the season, it began to take over.
Goalkeeper Cassidy Crosswhite began taking charge of the defense, and freshman Isabelle Miller stepped forward to play shut-down defense. Freeman spun off three straight wins and closed out the regular season winning 11 of its final 13 matches.
“Cassidy made some great saves to kind of get into the win column, and our confidence has grown with each win,” Rowe said. “Teams have kind of gotten frustrated by our defense, and they started pushing more numbers at us, and that gives us opportunities to counterattack. Casey Christiansen is my only real forward, and she’s done a lot of hard work putting the ball in the net for us.”
With each win came more confidence. And more notoriety.
“And we started getting more and more fans in the stands,” Rowe said. “We’re still talking about 30 people, but it’s a start. We get some volleyball players out to help cheer us on. That’s one of the great things about Freeman. The kids support one another.”
The Scotties finished in second place in the Northeast A League, a game behind league champion Lakeside – a team they beat 1-0 at Freeman. It’s the team’s best league finish.
Which brings us to Tuesday and a rematch with Newport on the artificial turf at Gonzaga Prep.
After that loss to the Grizzlies in the second game of the season, the Scotties posted a 2-0 win at home. On a neutral field, the Scotties posted a 2-1 win to claim the school’s first state tournament berth.
“The game was never in doubt,” Rowe said. “We were ahead 1-0 at halftime and were up 2-0 until Newport got a late goal.
“We just did what we’ve been doing all along. We played good defense and counterattacked.”
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