September 15, 2010 9:01:00 AM
STEENS -- Meghan Cooper has a simple philosophy that serves her well on the soccer field: Always go hard.
It''s a message Ray Campbell has instilled in Cooper and the rest of the players on the Immanuel Christian girls soccer team.
Add in some deft passing skills and combination play and a stingy defense and it''s easy to see why the Lady Rams are having a playoff season.
Cooper helped Immanuel Christian maintain its momentum Tuesday night, scoring her 14th goal of the season and adding assist in a 4-1 victory against Heritage Academy.
Michelle Swain added a pair of goals and Haley Good added another to help the Lady Rams improve to 9-2.
"We played good as a team," Cooper said. "Our passing is better than last year. We''re getting there."
Cooper broke the ice in the match off a free kick that had a little extra on it. Her drive deflected off the hands of goalkeeper Rachel Stukenborg for a 1-0 lead.
Cooper then used her powerful right foot on a corner kick later in the first half. The kick sailed to the far post, where Good was in position to use her body to re-direct the ball into the net.
Cooper, who plays center forward, is part of a three-pronged attack. All of the front-runners share an attacking attitude that allows them to pressure the defense to create scoring chances and plenty of turnovers.
Cooper isn''t sure if she is someone who "sets the tone" with her work rate, but she knows the team is playing with a lot of confidence as it enters the final part of the season.
Campbell said Rachel Strickland helps set the tone on offense, while Tori Fitzgerald and Taylor Kidder (goalkeeper) help anchor the defense. He has been most pleased with his players'' discipline and their willingness to do whatever is needed in a match.
"We are lucky this year with the talent we have," Campbell said. "We have a lot of talent off the bench. Tonight, I played everyone and they only scored one goal. The talent drops off some (when he substitutes for his starters), but it is not as much as in past seasons They are playing well and understanding the game."
Campbell said the players'' knowledge of the game comes from a lot of work on fundamentals in practice. He said the players probably get sick of all of the "simple drills" he has them do in practice, but he said he has seen the results in games.
"We have got to play soccer where everyone touches the ball," Campbell said. "If we pass well, we score. Passing and playing our positions has helped us in the wins we have this season."
Swain added a goal off an assist from Courtney Hall and another off a cleanup of a rebound to close the scoring for the Lady Rams.
The match was the first of a home-and-home series between the teams. Immanuel Christian will travel to Heritage Academy at 4 p.m. Monday. That match will be a final tune-up for the Lady Rams, who are gearing up for their last two regular-season district matches against Indianola Academy (4 p.m. Tuesday) and against Bayou Academy (the following Tuesday at Delta State). Victories in both matches likely will wrap up a home playoff match for the Lady Rams, according to Campbell.
Immanuel Christian showed Tuesday night without an injured Taylor Baudoin it looks primed to make some noise in the postseason. The Lady Rams outshot the Lady Patriots (2-5) 14-6 and forced Stukenborg, who was playing for Stephanie Cruse, to make nine saves. Cruse had her wisdom teeth out and was held out of the match.
Lexi Swain scored the only goal for the Lady Patriots off an assist from Tori Fields. Lexi and her sister, Missy, are sisters of Michelle Swain, who scored the two goals for Immanuel Christian.
Heritage Academy coach Krisi Boren said her team continues to work hard as it perseveres through a rebuilding season. The team has only one senior, Cruse, and is learning what it needs to do and how it needs to play to compete, Boren said.
"It has been a tough season," Boren said. "They are trying to do their best and I am trying to coach them the best I can and we''re hoping for the best."
Boren said she is trying to keep her players'' spirits up because she sees a lot of potential in her team for the years to come.
The Lady Patriots could take a page from the Lady Rams, who relied on an attacking mentality to take the first leg of the home-and-home series.
But Cooper feels it could be even better.
We''ll have to wait until Monday to see if Immanuel Christian can deliver.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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