WARSAW – Every high school team in the state wants to enter the regular season healthy.
The offseason is meant to get players in shape and for coaches to see what questions need to be answered before the season begins.
But in Wednesday’s scrimmage between River View and West Muskingum, even though the Black Bears walked away with a decisive 7-0 victory, they also walked away with more questions.
All because of a push in the back.
With about six minutes left in the game, River View sophomore and key player Jesse Vandenbark was dribbling the ball up the left side of the field when she was pushed from behind by a West Muskingum defender.
She immediately hit the ground and an ambulance was called to take her to the hospital.
Nobody wants to get hurt, but Vandenbark, who tore her ACL last year after scoring 16 goals in six games, is a key piece to the Black Bears’ puzzle this year, coach Dave Kridler said.
The extent of the injury is unknown, but she did not injure her knee again.
Her loss leaves the Black Bears with a question: Who will fill in while Vandenbark is out?
“That changes a lot for us. We aren’t terribly deep on the attacking front, and this is a real question mark as to how long of a recovery this will be,” Kridler said.
Until that point, the Black Bears were dominating the overmatched West Muskingum team. They were more physical, more talented and clearly had more knowledge of where they were making the runs.
The one thing they failed to do much of was maintain possession, and that is a teaching moment for Kridler.
“Tonight, because we could get to the goal fairly quickly I didn’t think we played well through the middle,” Kridler said. “I thought at the start of the second session we possessed a lot better, but it’s hard when you have a resounding win to get through to them that there were a lot of things we have to be better in.”
The offseason has been filled with win after win for the Black Bears, but Kridler said he doesn’t want the team to measure themselves by those victories.
“We know we are a better team. At times they act like they are relieved that they are the better team, like that’s enough for them. We are trying to see them on something more,” Kridler said.
That was reflected in the Black Bears’ play Wednesday night. In the early minutes, the Black Bears looked tentative, as if they were nervous, but once the first goal came, they were off to the races.
The focus seemed to be more on scoring than it did on possessing of the ball as the Black Bears sent through ball after through ball forward. The through balls were usually successful, but Kridler said he wants to see something more.
“We want to play quicker than our opponent through the middle. We want to dictate the speed of play and we have a long way to go there,” Kridler said.
Senior KJ Smailes agreed with Kridler, saying their passing is what they need to work on the most.
“That’s what we struggled with the most is just passing it and keeping it under control, but we’ve improved a lot over the summer on it and we hope to continue improving on it,” Smailes said.
And there were times in the game, particularly in the second half, when the Black Bears did put together good possession. That was good to see Kridler said.
“The great thing with us is that there is reason to believe that we can improve. We used to regularly play for district championships here, and it’s been there years since we had one and that’s not too high of a goal for us,” Kridler said.
The Black Bears will go on without Vandenbark for now as they will host John Glenn next Tuesday.
“Coaches see possibilities in a team and we’ve had glimpses of what we can do,” Kridler said. “This is a very good group, and they take suggestions to heart.”