September 18, 2019The last meeting between North Harrison and Salem on the soccer pitch was a thrilling sectional game which needed penalty kicks to send the Cougars to the championship a year ago.
Turn to 2019, both programs have undergone roster turnovers. Hardest hit was Salem, which fielded 11 players last season with many graduating.
North Harrison defender Mathew Nealy tries to dispose a Salem player from possession in the second half. Photo By Brian Smith
North Harrison, meanwhile, lost its top scorers to graduation. But, finding the back of the net from the returnees wasn't a problem last Tuesday. Against the Lions, Luke Robertson put in five goals, part of a lopsided 13-1 North Harrison victory.
"This is probably the best group we've had as far as fundamental passing," said North Harrison co-coach Marcus Burgher IV. "We still have a long way to go. One thing we are still trying to get to, which is hard when you play on taller grass, is playing faster."
When a player receives a ball, Burgher wants the player to reduce the number of touches and to think about that next pass.
"We want to move it quickly to open spaces and know where somebody is going to be ahead of time," he said.
Not long after the opening whistle, North Harrison was on the board. Quentin Scott assisted a goal put in by Seth Cockrell. By the end of the night, Cockrell had a hat trick. As North Harrison pounded the right side of the field, the Cougars were held off the scoreboard during the next 20 minutes.
The score moved to 2-0 when Robertson stole the ball from a Salem defender, fended off another and beat Salem keeper Alex Sparkman.
Pressure continued to mount on the Cougars' offensive end. Jake Galligan fed Robertson for his second goal. Two minutes later a smooth diagonal ball from Carter Wetzel found the boot of Galligan for a score.
Slipping another pass between defenders, Marcus Burgher V received a ball from Robertson and finished for a 5-0 lead.
Robertson then followed with a nifty flick of the ball with his head for a high-arching shot falling between Sparkman and the crossbar. To close the half, Cockrell, Robertson and Lucas Jobe notched goals for a 9-0 lead.
"We started to get the ball in the box and finishing goals, which is something we've talked about doing more of this year," said North Harrison co-coach Kirk Wetzel.
Since an Aug. 28 match versus Madison, coach Burgher said the focus has shifted to an attack mindset on the offensive end.
"We were doing a lot of ball possession, but we weren't attacking with our possession," he said. "We are trying to do that more, and we were successful in the first half tonight."
North Harrison keeper Logan McIntire had a rather quiet first half until saving a shot in the 36th minute.
A minute into the second half, Cockrell recorded his third goal to put the Cougars in double digits on the hometown scoreboard.
After a Robertson goal, Salem got on the board when Luke Noel broke free on a counterattack and scored.
North Harrison added two additional second-half goals, one each via Carter Wetzel and Burgher V.
The Cougars were coming off a match against New Albany the week prior where they were down two goals at half before the Bulldogs pulled away. Playing against higher-level competition gave the squad areas to work toward improving.
"Now we are trying to make ourselves more aggressive with a bigger group and attack with more players," said coach Burgher. "Again, it's worked against teams at our caliber or slightly above us, but the elite teams, we still aren't at that pace and speed. That's where we have to get to."
North Harrison will host Corydon Central tonight (Wednesday) at 6.