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  • Matt Ondesko

Pulling the strings

By Matthew Ondesko, Managing Editor Photos: Geoff Schneider/Sports Union

Roles and playing styles, which seemed unscathed, have undergone change. However, in terms of tactical evolution, midfield and the roles of midfielders have undergone the biggest change since the turn of this century.

For a team to be successful, all the three departments, i.e. the defense, midfield and strikers, need to be at their optimum best. But what is also true is the fact that a well oiled midfield able to control a game more often than not determines the final result.

The most attractive proposition in soccer back then, and even now, is the role of the playmaker. These are the players with their range of skills, passing, tactical intelligence, movement and composure that delight the crowds.

As the midfield has become narrower, these roles have evolved and have become more specialized to counter different tactics deployed in modern day.

Alden High School’s Ava Eichensehr is the new wave midfielder. She can do a little bit of everything. If you need her to score goals she can do that. Pick out the right teammates with a pass no problem. Go in and make a hard tackle to break up the play - sure why not.

Eichensehr is the well-plied cog in a machine that won its first division title since 2003. She is the Andrea Pirlo of the Alden Bulldogs. She is maestro. She is the one in the midfield that is pulling all the strings out on the pitch.

Just like Pirlo, she doesn’t care if she gets the attention or not. That’s not her game. He game is making sure her team has all the success on the field. If recognition comes with it, fine. But, she isn’t searching for it.

In the look at me world we live in today, Eichensehr is about the team, and the Bulldogs are happy about that.

“As a senior, I know this is my last year playing high school soccer and I want to make the most out of it. I don’t really think about impressing people or being number one,” stated Eichensehr. “I rather go out have fun and put the work in to get the results as a team. I don’t go in wanting to get the most goals. I don’t think goals and assists show if a player is good or not. I could score and get assists and still feel that I didn’t play the best game.”

The biggest asset of a playmaking midfielder is their vision. Being able to see the play two plays ahead is what makes the playmaking midfielder a thing of beauty. Watching Pirlo in his prime, you saw a player that just commanded the midfield.

His presence out on the pitch drew doubles teams. It allowed other players to get open.

When Eichensehr hits the pitch other teams know. They will do everything in their power to take away the heartbeat of the team. Eichensehr knows this as well. What makes it so hard to play against Eichensehr is that she can do a little bit of everything.

The fact she can score goals and dish out assist at an alarming rates allows her to be that more dangerous. It makes playing, and game-planning, against her a headache for other coaches and teams.

“As a player, I don’t look to take the ball up and score to rack up my points, most would even think I could shoot more. I decide to pass a lot knowing that the person I’m passing the ball to is in a better place to take the shot. My mindset of playing like this definitely shows, looking at how many assists I have compared to goals,” stated Eichensehr. “It’s hard knowing that the person I’m playing against thinks the same as me and looks for the same passes. Then we are also in the same position, making it harder to get those passes through. But, also,  making it easier to defend the person knowing what they’re trying to do.”

Eichensehr is one of the few players to venture out of the Alden community to continue her soccer career. While most will stay and play for the club team in Alden, Eichensehr plays her club soccer for Empire.

There Eichensehr was able to hone her game against some of the best players in Western New York and the country. She brought that experience back to the Bulldogs, and it has paid off big time for the program.

“Playing for Empire has definitely changed me as a player. I’ve spent so much time playing throughout the years and I think the traveling time and practices put in have changed my character. I was never the one everyone knew about on Empire. I was more quiet and just listened to the coaches and put the work in, I’ve definitely learned from club teams and they’ve shaped me into the player I am today,” stated Eichensehr. “I’ve learned different drills and experience at a fast and higher level of play. Also from playing so many different teams I’ve played different formations on the field and I know how they work against other teams formations. Playing club all of these years has changed my character on and off the field, I’ve learned so much from different coaches and players that I’m extremely thankful for.”

Eichensehr has brought a calmness to the midfield position. She is vocal when she needs to be and makes sure that the players are in the right position on the pitch. Being able to play on varsity has helped Eichensehr in her development.

She went through the growing pains of a 13-year-old varsity players going up against stronger, more polished, players on at the level. She used that experience to become the type of player she is today.

“Playing the midfield position takes not only a voice but reacting fast and knowing where options are to pass the ball, or if there’s no options knowing that there’s space to take the ball up and find girls wide or in the middle to pass the ball to. The midfielders are counted on to come back and I think my team relies on that with 50/50 balls, and just coming back to help the defense out, even though I think we have a strong starting senior defense that can do a lot. The four of them( Emma Martin, Sophie Loschiavo, Erica O’Connor, and Maddie Riedel) have been great,” stated Eichensehr. “This season has been easy for this, the two forwards Shannon and Alyssa definitely have speed and the right positioning to obtain the ball. They make it easy for me to pass to them as they are usually open in the middle or if not they’re able to hold on to the ball while being aggressive and get past the defenders. I also think using the corners have played a big part in getting the ball to the right player. All of the outside mids on my team ( Haley Tyburski, Sam Messing, and Meghan Whiteford) have speed and a good kick to cross the ball for the forwards to attack.”

With Alden being such a small community everyone knows everyone. Being named a captain is a big deal in general for any team. When you are named a captain in a community where everyone knows your name it takes on a different type of meaning.

Eichensehr never changed the type of person when the “C” was placed on her shirt. She was still the same type of person she always was. She let’s her play tell the story. When others on the team see how she goes about her work it inspires them to be better.

“Alden is a small school and everyone on my team I’ve known for so long, and being a captain on this team doesn’t mean as much as it may mean to others. I personally think everyone can speak up and say what they want to help this team succeed for in some situations I will take charge, such as when my coach will ask about where some players on the field should play if they aren’t doing the best in a certain position,” stated Eichensehr. “During other situations when coach asks, not only me but the other captains about a decision, I ask the team and look at the girls because it is a team sport. I think everyone brings a different knowledge to the team, and I think everyone should have an opinion.”

As her career comes to and end, Eichensehr only cares about the success of the team. People will talk about the type of career that she had - and how she was a big part of the resurgence of the Alden Bulldogs.

But, it’s that banner that is what’s important to her. All the individual accolades are nice, but the banner hanging up in the gym that reads 2019 Division champs is what all that matters at the end of the night and her career.

“I want people to look on the gym wall and see the “2019” Division champs under girls varsity soccer, and know how much we wanted this as a team. Each and every one of us worked and pushed through games where we have been down two or three goals and came out with a win,” stated Eichensehr. “I’m sure most of the girls remember the feeling of beating some teams and now it is shown. I want people to look back at the legacy of the team and the seniors. We have 11 seniors and every single one of us have been involved in Alden soccer since we were younger. I think we all knew we wanted to make a memory for our last high school soccer season that’ll last forever, and we sure did that.”


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