by BRYAN EVERSON
Dakota showed some resolve in the latter stages of Saturday afternoon’s meeting with Troy, but there’s still some work to be done to get back to the successes the program enjoyed the past three seasons.
The Cougars fought back for a goal in the final 10 minutes, but fell 2-1 in a nonleague meeting at Troy.
Gary Schodowski’s team looked to be reinvigorated with passion following the team’s lone goal that saw Hannah Lerner chest down the ball and slow it past Troy goalkeeper Lindsay Bolas from inside eight yards with 6:48 remaining in the match.
The visitors, though, were held at bay in the game’s final moments despite pressing for a pull-even moment.
“[There was] a little bit of [rediscovered belief after scoring],” Dakota coach Gary Schodowski said. “I think in the second half, though, we just didn’t play the same game that we did in the first half. We did well getting it out of the middle third and into the attacking third [before halftime]. In the second half, for some reason we were losing the middle third.”
Troy managed to strike first just under 10 minutes into the opening half when a turnover allowed forward Caroline Schlimgen to slip a pass to her right to Sydney Hyatt, who was able to retain the ball despite a challenge from a Dakota defender and fired to the left of goalkeeper Brooke Thomas.
Thomas did well less than a minute later to mitigate the danger when she came off her line to sweep away a cross by Troy’s Alex Lillie.
Dakota appeared to grow into the game as the first half progressed, creating several moments that looked capable of producing a leveler. Hailey Ritchie played a diagonal ball over the Colts’ left back and Brenne Butkovich nearly chased it down inside the box with 23 minutes to play in the first. Six minutes later, Meagan Mulrenin lifted a service in from the left side near the corner flag, but wasn’t quite able to connect with the target inside the box.
The Colts were also put into danger less than nine minutes before halftime when a free kick was earned by Dakota, but the set piece from 25 yards out drifted wide of the left post.
Troy, though, struck quickly after the break, doubling its lead when Tahra Brodbine capitalized off a misplayed ball and lifted her shot past Thomas just under four minutes in.
“The second goal, [our defender] tried to trap it out of the air, and that’s a difficult thing to do,” Schodowski said. “Unfortunately, it went back to their player who got the shot off.”
Each team featured a formation with five players in the middle, making passage through the center a key. It’s a change of styles for the Cougars, led by Schodowski in his first year as head coach.
“I’m heavy on midfielders on my team right now, so I’m kind of forced to play that formation, and they’ve adapted well with it,” he said of his players. “We haven’t given up a lot of goals without having a strong back line.”
“[The formation is new] to this team, so they’re not understanding some of the runs. We get out of the back line really well, and when we get to the middle third, what happens is our top line doesn’t know where to make those transitional runs to help us in the final third.
‘The final product and the runs to get there — like making diagonal runs rather than north-south ones — to help increase the scoring is a major piece of the puzzle Schodowski is trying to help his players put into place.
“In every game that we’ve had so far, our challenge has been finishing,” he said. “That’s essentially what we’re trying to fix. In a game previously, we had 28 shots on goal and the other team had 11, and they beat us 1-0, so that’s been the season so far.”
Making the reclamation project more difficult is an injury bug that’s hit both before and during the season. On top of having several players in concussion protocol, the Cougars are without a big part of what allowed them to 6-1-3 within the division and become MAC White winners in 2016.
Despite losses that followed Troy this week to Utica and L’anse Creuse North, Dakota will look to improve upon its 3-8-0 record in a home game against Grosse Pointe North on Monday night.