By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
What the New Covenant Academy Lady Warriors may lack in stature, they make up for with skill, speed and surprising chemistry.
Behind an offensive outburst from junior Alicia Batten and freshman Anna Crain, NCA shredded two-time defending district champion Mountain View-Birch Tree/Liberty 7-3 in a matchup of local Class 1 contenders.
“Our team chemistry is the best it’s ever been,” Batten said. “Especially with so many new freshmen, we’re getting to know how each one plays and how they can contribute.
“With Anna and I, we have really good chemistry and speed. She can go forward and I can stay back in support, or vice versa. We can do either one. I feel like our chemistry is spot-on this year.”
Crain (four goals) and Batten (three goals) paced the NCA attack. Batten’s a three-year varsity soccer player who also plays on NCA’s basketball team.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment – for those two to play together,” said Lady Warriors coach Eric Crain. “Alicia’s the point guard for our basketball team, so she knows how to provide leadership. I’m hoping her hard work and ability rubs off on everyone. They play really well together. It clicked today.”
Both Batten and Anna Crain come in slightly over 5-feet tall.
“A lot of teams think, ‘Oh, (NCA) is small. They’re not going to do well,” Anna Crain said. “Then we come out and it’s like, ‘boom.’ Teams are like, ‘Wait, what did we get into?’ It’s nice being underestimated.”
NCA, which started playing varsity soccer in 2015, had never beaten Liberty before Tuesday night. The Lady Warriors were 0-3 all-time against Liberty, including season-ending losses in districts the past two seasons.
“It’s always been a really hard game against them,” Batten said. “But we passed the ball better, we used our defense a lot more and worked really well together.”
In the 35th minute, Crain drilled a shot through from about 35 yards out to give NCA a 3-0 lead.
Batten would close out the fireworks by scoring twice in the final 17 minutes.
“We knew (Liberty) has the potential to put up a lot of goals,” Eric Crain said. “We felt like we needed to go more offensive-minded to try to keep it out of our backfield area. Our defense is good, but they’re No. 10 (Amanda Mantel) always seems to find a way to score. She was our biggest concern.”
The Lady Warriors exploited gaps in Liberty’s backline with spacing and pinpoint passing.
After Liberty had drawn within 4-3 in the 56th minute, NCA quickly answered on the ensuing kickoff as Anna Crain (the daughter of the head coach) got free for a breakaway goal.
“Our intensity was high and we continued with high intensity the whole game,” Batten said. “That’s what really set us apart. Because usually that doesn’t happen (the whole game) for us. That’s the ultimate reason we won.”
Four minutes later, more patient passing led to Anna Crain setting up Batten for a breakaway goal.
“We can read each other out there,” Anna Crain said. “So whenever I see her running this way, I know, ‘Oh, she’s going straight on. So, I’m going to make a straight-on pass.’ Or if I see her running toward the corner, I know to slide it through. Just her body language tells me where to go.”
Said Eric Crain: “That’s really our style: move the ball around and wait, play a more three-dimensional style instead of it just being a boot-ball up the field. We’re looking to spread the field. We have a lot of good individual players who have good touches and can attack the defense. It showed tonight.”
NCA improved to 5-1 on the season. The Lady Warriors face a stiff test this weekend (April 5-6) when they battle Bolivar, Hillcrest and fellow district member McAuley Catholic at the Hillcrest Tournament.
Liberty dropped to 5-2 overall. The Eagles return to Springfield on Saturday when they compete in the Greenwood Classic.
New Covenant Academy 7, Mountain View-Birch Tree/Liberty 3
Liberty 1 2 — 3
NCA 3 4 — 7
NCA (9’) – Crain
NCA (32’) – Batten
NCA (35’) – Crain
Liberty (40’) – Collins
NCA (47’) – Crain
Liberty (51’) – Mantel (PK)
Liberty (56’) – Collins
NCA (56’) – Crain
NCA (63’) – Batten (Crain assist)
NCA (79’) – Batten