November Athlete of the Month: Madeline Sweeney shuts down the opposition for Cherry Hill West girls soccer
Sweeney’s solid play on defense was a key factor in helping Cherry Hill West girls soccer to the South Jersey Group III sectional final.
Junior Madeline Sweeney’s contributions to the Cherry Hill High School West girls soccer team are hard to quantify with statistics.
Offensively, Sweeney tallied two goals and one assist during the season. However, her work defensively is what made her stand out. Sweeney’s command of the midfield and leadership played a big role in leading Cherry Hill West girls soccer to the South Jersey Group III sectional final this month.
The defense was the strongest part of Cherry Hill West girls soccer this year. In four playoff games, Cherry Hill West allowed just one goal. The team allowed two or more goals in a game just three times all season and shut out eight opponents.
At the heart of the defense was Sweeney, who was in her third year on the Lions’ varsity team. Sweeney’s experience was crucial as Cherry Hill West had a few freshmen in its starting lineup this season.
“I play in front of the back defensive line,” Sweeney noted. “I’m showing them the way which to defend and distribute.”
Sweeney began playing soccer around the age of 7 and eventually tried out for Cherry Hill Soccer Club. Sweeney said her time with CHSC was instrumental in developing her game.
“I think I learned how to be a part of a team,” Sweeney said. “I learned how to become a coachable player and take advice from coaches.”
Sweeney spent most of her time prior to high school playing in the backfield. When she joined Cherry Hill West in 2015, she shifted to center midfield. Her ability to win one-on-one matchups with opposing attackers was the impetus behind the position change.
Sweeney said the position change wasn’t too difficult because of her experience playing multiple positions in youth soccer.
“I had experience playing outside mid,” Sweeney noted. “But I think starting as a freshman on varsity, I was surrounded with good players around me.”
This season, Cherry Hill West girls soccer was much improved on the defensive side of the ball. In 2016, the Lions allowed an average of three goals per game. In 2017, Cherry Hill West allowed just 0.86 goals per game. Sweeney credited a change in philosophy to the team’s improvement.
“This year … we worked on getting the ball on defense and finding better ways of taking the ball and moving up the field and working together to win the ball,” she said.
Individually, Sweeney felt she made a lot of strides in winning one-on-one battles against the opposition and transitioning from defense to the attack.
“After winning the ball on 50–50s, I think my tactical side I’ve learned different ways to distribute,” Sweeney said.
In the playoffs, Sweeney was frequently the player asked to cover the opposition’s best scorer. Sweeney relished the role and credited head coach Katina Anthony and the staff with getting the girls prepared for each game.
“I think from getting the scouting reports from the coaches, (we knew) who their best players were,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney is eager to improve even more for her senior season in 2018. While the Lions will lose a number of key seniors from the 2017 team, Sweeney believes the momentum the Lions built in 2017 will carry into the future.
“There’s this confidence from this year and I think that will be key for girls coming next year and girls moving up from JV that are looking up to us this year will help us next year,” Sweeney said.