DUNELLEN — Just two days after scoring a hat trick, junior Olivia Draper found the back of the net twice more on Wednesday, helping the Highland Park High School girls soccer team to a 3-1 victory over Dunellen at Columbia Park.
Draper connected on goals in the 4th and 40th minutes of the first half, bookending a solid all-around effort by the Owls. Jessica Dresch also clicked in the opening 40 minutes for Highland Park, which scored a 6-1 win over South Amboy Monday.
Even though the Owls took a two-goal lead into intermission, coach Chris Ruckdeschel saw areas that his squad needs to improve if they’re going to be serious contenders in the Greater Middlesex Conference this season.
“At halftime, I honestly was not happy,” he said. “I thought that we should have had better possession and I thought that we should have moved the ball more; I saw way too much dribbling and then just to shut me up, in the second half we had much better possession and created more opportunities, but we didn’t finish.”
The opportunities that were finished came in the opening stanza, when Draper took advantage of a misplayed ball deep in the Dunellen end of the pitch and tapped in her fourth goal of the week.
After Jackie Von Itter tied the score for the Destroyers in the 16th minute, Dresch, who had entered as a substitute, was in the right place at the right time. Once again, the Dunellen defense broke down and Dresch lofted a shot that eluded freshman goalkeeper Casey Olsommer’s hands to put the Owls on top for good.
Draper’s second goal of the game came in the final seconds of the first half when she took a perfectly placed crossing pass from Sophie Gillerman near the top of the box and struck home her fifth goal of the season.
“Olivia is one of the smartest players we have,” Ruckdeschel said. “She knows exactly where to be and she’s a born finisher. When the ball gets on her foot, every goalie should be aware that it’s going on net.”
Draper said that she’s been working on using her weaker foot, her left, more to become harder to stop on offense and the scary thought for opponents for the rest of the season is that she thinks she’s just scratching the surface of what she can do with the ball.
“I’ve been working on crashing the net a lot because in past years, I’ve tended to run through the ball but just kind of let up,” Draper said. “Working on my left side is allowing me to have stronger kicks and I’m able to get the ball on net from further away.”
Highland Park had the better chances on net in the second half, and even though they weren’t able to add to their lead, Ruckdeschel knows that his young squad is still learning to play with one another.
“This game is about knowing when to move forwards and when to move backwards and it’ll come with time. We’re a young team, with only four seniors, but the leadership has been tremendous up to this point,” he said.