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Versatility key for Duchesses’ success

Dixon dominating

Dixon’s Olivia Dennison (left) celebrates her goal with teammate Taylor Harrison during a game against Oregon earlier this spring. The Duchesses have outscored opponents 120-14 this season in amassing a 16-2-1 record.
Dixon’s Olivia Dennison (left) celebrates her goal with teammate Taylor Harrison during a game against Oregon earlier this spring. The Duchesses have outscored opponents 120-14 this season in amassing a 16-2-1 record.

Few teams have found a way to score against the Dixon girls soccer team this season – and few have found a way to keep the Duchesses from scoring in bunches.

So far this year, the Duchesses (16-2-1) have outscored teams 120-14, recording 11 shutouts.

“I’m liking the way we are able to pressure up offensively and control it through defense and push a forward through that,” Dixon senior back Avery Fox said.

Dixon closed the regular season with back-to-back eight-goal outbursts in wins over Genoa-Kingston and Winnebago. When the Duchesses beat Mendota 11-1 on April 25, it was the fourth time this year the Duchesses have topped the 10-goal mark for a game.

“So far we’ve had an excellent season,” Dixon coach Mahmoud Etemadi said. “The girls have been playing outstanding. We’ve won some games, we’re dominating some games. We’re looking definitely to a successful postseason.”

Scoring more than 100 goals in a season is certainly nothing new to Dixon, which pulled off the same feat last year. This year’s squad has found ways to score from every angle, dribbling through defenses, feeding passes in from the wings, scoring on counter-attacks, and shooting from long range.

“It’s us finding the [players] out wide and communicating more,” Dixon sophomore midfielder Emma Evans said. “Finding other people to cross it in other than the same old people, finding people’s different talents and skills.”

Sophomore Taylor Harrison has been a huge part of that offense, with a school-record 54 goals to go with 27 assists. The all-state pick has had a hand in 81 of the Duchesses’ 120 goals – 67.5% of Dixon’s goals this year.

“We want to work on finding passes through the middle and finding small passes leading up to the big one so we can get it up to the front where I am or where Olivia [Dennison] is,” Harrison said. “As the games get closer to the postseason, [other teams] are realizing what we’re doing, so we want to just find feet and make it harder for them to close those gaps.”

Of those 14 goals Dixon has conceded, eight came in a pair of early-season games, a 5-4 loss to Kaneland and a 3-3 tie with United Township. That was followed by a stretch where Dixon goalkeeper Abbie Provo never saw a shot get past her for six straight games. Since the tie against UT, Dixon has outscored teams 111-6.

“Whenever you get the ball stolen from you, you think, ‘How do I get this ball back?’” Fox said. “It starts with offense too, playing on the defensive side. It’s not just the back players playing defense; everyone has that defensive mentality that you’re still doing it, but you’re also scoring goals.”

Players switching from a defensive mentality to an offensive mentality comes naturally at Dixon. Etemadi will ask his players to play in different spots over the course of their careers, or even over the course of a single game.

“I’ve always believed a player should be versatile and be able to play in any position and has to learn any position,” Etemadi said. “They complement each other. A defensive player should have played forward to know what it takes to be a successful forward so that they can counter-attack that. It’s very good, and I always encourage them to play different positions. Once they play, they feel comfortable.”

Emma Evans plays defense, midfield and forward. Harrison plays forward, both centrally and serving passes in from the wings, and then moves back to play sweeper. Dennison can play forward and defense. Fox can play defense and midfield. Hallie Nelson played at the back for most of last year, but is a midfielder now.

“It’s a little crazy at first, but once we get the hang of it, we start to become a team and start finding what we need to do,” Evans said.

That is build through practice, where the players will find themselves changing spots on the field.

“We want to be as versatile as possible so if somebody gets taken out of the game, there’s always someone to step in,” Harrison said. “Sometimes you may be good in one position, and then you try it out and you’re just as good in another position, if not better. We’re just trying to find the best fit for our team.”

Dixon’s versatile squad will open postseason play in the Class 2A Sycamore Regional against Sterling, a team the Duchesses beat 7-0 on March 26.

“I think they have improved significantly over the season under the direction of their new coach, Ali Messina,” Etemadi said. “They have come along, and this is the best Sterling team I have seen. We are not taking them lightly. We are showing them a lot of respect by playing them hard. I think the game can go either way.”

Class 2A Sycamore Regional

When: Today, Friday

Teams: No. 1 Sycamore, No. 3 Dixon, No. 6 Sterling, No. 8 Rochelle

Local players to watch: Olivia Dennison, Dixon sr. F; Holli Drew, Sterling sr. GK; Avery Fox, Dixon sr. D; Ellie Gasso, Sterling so. MF; Maddie Gasso, Sterling sr. D; Abby Goff, Dixon so. MF; Taylor Harrison, Dixon so. F; Tiara Munoz, Sterling sr. MF

Advancement: Hamphire Sectional vs. winner of Burlington Central Regional

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