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The North Haven girls’ soccer team runs a defensively minded formation that’s designed to limit the opposing center’s effectiveness, and junior outside back Kelly Fresher plays an integral role in making that formation work for the Indians every game. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Fresher )
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North Haven High School junior Kelly Fresher has been playing soccer for as long as she can remember, starting in clinics with her older sister Claire when she was four. Now, Kelly is a member of the North Haven varsity girls’ soccer squad who is really excelling on defense. Kelly plays outside back for the Indians and is an integral part of their defensively oriented formation. North Haven made states for the first time in a few years when Kelly was a sophomore last fall, and she’s doing everything she can to help the team return to the postseason this year.
Kelly enjoys her defensive role for North Haven. She thinks being able to look up the pitch and see everything happening in front of her allows her to adjust to her opponents and limit their chances.
“I like being able to see the whole field,” says Kelly. “I definitely play more containing and controlling the ball and deciding when’s the right time to step. I’m reading and reacting. I think I’m pretty good at it, but I can definitely improve.”
However, Kelly’s contributions go beyond providing a defensive presence for the Indians. As the game wears on, Kelly will occasionally take the ball up the field to press the opposing defense and create scoring chances for herself and her teammates. She’s already dished off a few assists this season.
“I’m strong on running up the field with the ball and getting my offensive opportunities,” Kelly says. “I make runs sometimes, but I stay back more to stay defensive.”
It’s important for Kelly to hold her ground because of the Indians’ 4-2-3-1 formation and the space it opens up in front of her and toward the sideline. Kelly thinks the formation works well for her club, but it didn’t come without adjustments for Kelly, who’s played in a 4-4-2 throughout most of her soccer career.
“Our formation is more defensive, and it’s mostly focused on containing the center. It’s important, because a lot of strong teams in the league attack from the middle,” Kelly says. “There’s more space on the sideline. I have to keep that space filled, but I can’t over-commit either. I need to know when to push up more and when not to. I definitely think the formation is helpful...The other teams aren’t really expecting it. It’s hard for them to tell where we’re making our plays from.”
So far this year, the Indians have limited nearly all their opponents to just one goal or less. Kelly believes that has a lot to do with the way she and her fellow defenders work together in the backfield. North Haven’s offense is coming along, as well, and Kelly knows that both units have to be methodical.
“You need to know where everyone is and where to pass the ball and where not to, especially with our formation. All the defenders work together. We have to stagger perfectly,” says Kelly. “Our offense has to contain and slowly bring up the ball and work together to get our offensive opportunities. I think we’re getting better with that. Our team is strong in making the short passes that lead to a cross or a shot on net.”
Head Coach Rocco Christiana has seen how Kelly has progressed into a big factor on the field for his team. Christiana was Kelly’s JV coach in her freshman year and then became head coach of the varsity squad as Kelly transitioned to that level last season. Christiana considers Kelly’s defensive prowess a critical component of the Indians’ success.
“If you can get by Kelly Fresher on defense, then you’re doing something in this league. She’s the type of player that makes all the other players on the field look better. They know she’s behind them. It gives the rest of the team the opportunity to play their game and play more relaxed and in control, knowing that she’s back there if anything happens,” says Coach Christiana. “She’s worked so hard for three years. She’s someone who I’m so proud of, because she’s just a great spirit on the field, and she’s a great athlete. She brings the level of play up every game and her teammates genuinely respect her.”
Kelly thanks her parents, Tara Chiarelli and Charles Fresher, for their support, as well as her sisters Claire and Carly, who are also fellow teammates. Kelly also thanks Coach Christiana for helping her at every step of her high school career.
“It’s helped. We already formed a friendship at JV,” says Kelly. “He was definitely guiding me along the way, and that eased the transition having the same coach for a while.”
As for the rest of this season, the Indians are in a good position to once again make the State Tournament. Kelly thinks as long as North Haven stays focused, then everything will fall in place.
“We’ve been neck and neck for some of the best teams in the league,” says Kelly. “We have some upcoming games that we can win. We just need to keep the energy up and get pumped for them.”
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