Photo by Jeff Yoder
Your Prep Sports
NORTH LIBERTY – Frank Fiordellisi knows the challenges associated with starting a soccer program from scratch.
The second-year Liberty High head coach did just that last season leading the Lightning to six wins in their first varsity season.
Fiordellisi also knows the advantage that experience provides in soccer and on Thursday experience proved to be the difference for Liberty High.
Elise Hermiston and Grace Heddens each scored a pair of goals as Liberty High spoiled the program debut for West Branch with a 2-0 win over the Bears in North Liberty.
“That second year jump for a lot of our kids makes a huge difference, there are some kids starting and doing good things for us who last year at this point in the season they had only touched a soccer ball for 14 days,” Fiordellsi said. “Having that extra year under their belt makes a huge difference in confidence and familiarity with the game and knowing what to do on the field.”
Hermiston scored twice in the first half and Heddens added two goals in the final 34 minutes as Liberty High improved to 2-0 on the season with its second home win in three days.
The 2-0 start comes after Liberty High opened 2-8 last spring during its inaugural season.
“Being on your home turf is nice,” Hermiston said. “It’s great to have the support from the fans at home.”
West Branch got a second-half goal from Taylor Thein that cut the lead to 3-1 but it wasn’t enough as the Bears dropped the first game in program history.
“I was super happy with how our girls competed,” said West Branch coach Jason Kern who was filling in for head coach Grey Seydel on Thursday. “They were really nervous in our first official game but our girls came out and competed and I thought we held our own.”
Hermiston didn’t waste any time getting Liberty High on the board.
The sophomore gave Liberty High the lead less than six minutes into the match when she fired a shot past West Branch keeper Kaiya Luneckas.
“It helps so much to get that first goal,” Hermiston said. “You just feel a relief off your shoulders after that first goal.”
Hermiston made it 2-0 Liberty High at the half with a goal off a Piper Koski assist in the 34th minute.
“Elise is a great player, last year she was a solid player but being a freshman there are little bit of those freshman nerves but this year there is a different focus with her,” Fiordellisi said. “She has kind of taken some ownership and leadership on this team.”
Heddens put Liberty High on top 3-0 with the first goal of her career in the 47th minute.
The freshman corralled a Lily Anderson cross in front of the net and slipped a shot past Luneckas into the left corner.
“It felt amazing,” Heddens said. “We are really young, there are five freshman on our team so it feels good to get that first goal.”
West Branch answered with a goal by Thein, the first in program history, less than five minutes later.
Heddens responded with her second goal of the night in the 59th minute to cap the scoring.
“Tonight we really connected and we really found ourselves communicating more and connecting passes,” Heddens said. “That’s what led to my two goals was just great teamwork.”
Liberty High scored 21 total goals in 18 matches last year and had more than two goals in a match just three times during its debut season.
The Lightning have scored seven goals in their first two matches after downing Washington 3-0 in the season opener on Tuesday.
“It seemed like the nerves went away tonight we were able to possess the ball a lot better and we were connecting passes,” Fiordellisi said. “I think the second game the nerves went away and we were a lot more confident.”
West Branch will host Denver in its first ever home game on Monday.
“They are a first-year program. They worked hard, they battled, they got a goal against us and they defended us really well,” Fiordellisi said. “For being a first-year program they did pretty fantastic.”