THE Jennings County boys soccer team has a new defense that helped the Panthers win their pool within the Hoosier Cup Tournament and seven of their first nine games.
“We’ve switched from a diamond defense to a flat back four defense this year,” Jennings County head coach Ryan Beal said. “In the old defense, we were responsible for men, but we’re responsible for zones in the flat back four. The new scheme depends a lot on communication because you have to let your teammates know when an opponent is leaving your zone.”
Beal believes he and his assistants were responsible for a shocking season-opening loss to Madison Shawe.
“We have to make sure that they are in the right frame of mind,” Beal said. “We looked past them because we were overconfident. They hadn’t given us problems before. It was similar to a loss to Scottsburg last year just before the sectional. After each game, we take the good with the bad and try to put it behind us because it’s over.”
The Panthers have rebounded from the loss well. The Panthers won two of their three games during Labor Day weekend in Bloomington to capture their pool of the Hoosier Cup.
“It felt good to accomplish that,” Beal said. “It’s one of our goals every year. When we won our Hoosier Cup pool two years ago, we won our sectional, and I think this team can duplicate that. Both teams have a lot of senior leadership.”
The flat back four defense has been a key to the Panthers’ offense success because it involves all the players on the field, which accelerates the transition to defense. This allows fleet-footed senior forward Braden Lewis more time and space on the field to create scoring chances for himself and his teammates.
“We’re scoring more this year,” Beal said. “Last year, we had two shutouts. At midseason this year, we already have four, and we’re doing a better job on defense. We haven’t been shut out.”
Lewis has ignited the offense this year. The former cross-country runner is a natural forward since it is a position that requires a lot of running. He scored two goals in the Panthers’ 4-0 shutout of Edgewood that advanced the team to the Cup finals.
“We like to take advantage of his speed because he has a lot of stamina,” Beal said. “He’s a hard worker and a good leader who runs his butt off in practice.”
During key offensive situations, defenseman Adrian Kirchner has paired with Lewis at the forward position to form a dangerous scoring duo.
“We sacrificed a lot in the championship game (of Hoosier Cup pool play) on defense,” Beal said. “We put Kirchner at forward along with Lewis because we had to have that game.”
The versatile Kirchner got the ball into the box late in the championship game against Merrillville.
Kirchner’s play caused the opponents to foul Lewis and set up the Cup-winning goal, which broke a scoreless tie.
“Kirchner’s a solid defender with speed, quickness and athletic ability,” Beal said. “I can put him one-on-one against anyone, and I’m confident that he gets the ball.”
Beal said Kirchner personifies this team because it is a well-rounded group that is potent on offense and defense because of its superior team chemistry and intellect.
“Some other teams have two or three great players,” Beal said. “We may have those two or three great players, but our greatest strength is working together as a team.
We can pass and trap, and we have a good grasp of the game. We’re not the biggest team physically, but we’re athletic and strong.”
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