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(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)

TACTICAL RESPONSE: Hun girls' soccer coach Michael Poller eyes play in action last fall. Poller's decision to switch junior star Val Patriarca to midfield from forward this season has given the Raiders a lift as they have gotten off to a 4-2 start. Patriarca has scored a goal in each of Hun's last four games to help the Raiders go 3-1 in that strech. In upcoming action, Hun plays at Hightstown on September 29, hosts Penn Charter on October 1, and then plays at Notre Dame on October 3.
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Patriarca's Switch to Midfield Spot Helps Jump Start Hun Girls' Soccer

By Bill Alden

For the last two seasons, Val Patriarca has starred up front at forward for the Hun School girls' soccer team.

Looking to better deploy the junior's energy and work rate, Hun head coach Michael Poller recently moved Patriarca into the midfield.

Last week against rival Princeton Day School, Patriarca made her coach look like a genius as she scored a goal early in the second half to break a scoreless tie and then assisted on an insurance goal by Emily Gratch as Hun earned a hard-fought 2-0 victory.

Afterward, Patriarca acknowledged that a suggestion she made to Poller at halftime helped lead to her second half outburst.

"We were talking about me staying more central instead of going wide," recalled Patriarca. "It seemed like I was always open in the middle in the second half."

With Hun having lost two heartbreakers to PDS during Patriarca's career, she was determined to make the most of her opportunity when she broke free right before her goal.

"I just took my time," said a smiling Patriarca. "The keeper was in position but there is always that far post so I smashed it in there. It definitely gave us a big jolt of energy."

Patriarca believes that she can provide more than just energy from the midfield. "I worked with Lindsey Scott before when we both playing forward," explained Patriarca. "Being in the midfield I can help the back and still work with Lindsey."

Poller, for his part, made the shift due to Patriarca's work rate all over the field. "Val is a workhorse so she likes to go back into the middle anyway," said Poller. "For me it just made sense to let her do what she likes to do naturally. It helps us by giving us a playmaker in the middle."

The shift of Patriarca has made her connection with Scott even more potent. "Having Val in the middle gives Lindsey a lot of space to play up top," added Poller, whose team improved to 4-2 with a 2-1 win over visiting Montclair Kimberley last Monday as Patriarca and Jackie Malleo scored goals. "She is very fast and dynamic and gets into spaces and finds holes all over the place."

Hun's team fitness helped it find holes as both teams battled through steamy conditions. "It was a hot day and we played the majority of our players just about the whole game," said Poller. "I gave them five minutes off here or there. We work on conditioning all of the time; it's something we focus on."

A key factor in the win over PDS was the focus shown by Hun's new starting goalie this season, sophomore Mary DiPastina. "She made a couple of big saves when she needed to make them," said Poller referring to DiPastina. "She's a work in progress. She's got the hands, she's got the technique. She's getting experience and she needs to work on being tuned in throughout the whole game."

After blowing a late one-goal lead in losing 3-2 at PDS last fall, Poller was pleased to see his team close the deal. "I feel like they had this potential in them," asserted Poller, whose team plays at Hightstown on September 29, hosts Penn Charter on October 1, and then plays at Notre Dame on October 3.

"They really believe in themselves. We talked about it (last year's game) before the game and at halftime. We made sure it wouldn't happen again. We finished them off. We played tough defensively in the last 15 minutes after we went up by two. We weren't giving anything away."

In Patriarca's view, the win over PDS is something the team can build on going forward. "It was definitely a big game," said Patriarca. "We had been nervous about it for a while. I think we just outran them. They were getting tired and we just kept pushing them. It's a game that's going to put us up in the Prep A."


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