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East County Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018 6 months ago

High-scoring upperclassmen lead Thunder girls soccer team

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The ODA senior midfielder and junior forward have been on a tear this season
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Reporter

They put the “O” in ODA.

Despite losing seven seniors off last year’s district championship team, The Out-of-Door Academy girls soccer team is off to a hot start in the 2018-19 season. The Thunder is 4-1 on the year as of Dec. 13, winning its games by an average score of almost 6-1.

The current team is inexperienced, with five freshmen, two eighth graders and two seventh graders. Much of its prolific offense comes from two veterans: senior midfielder Madisyn Opstal, who has signed with Wake Forest University, and junior forward Natalie Gorji, who according to coach Bill Unzicker has received interest from numerous schools, including the universities of Florida and Pennsylvania.

This is the duo’s sixth season playing soccer together, dating back to their days with the club team, FC Sarasota.

They said all those games has led to a great chemistry.

ODA senior midfielder Madisyn Opstal, who has signed with Wake Forest University, takes a run at the net during practice. She has six goals and eight assists through five games, as of Dec. 13.

“I know I can always find her,” Opstal said of Gorji. “It’s easy. We can connect without even looking at each other.”

According to the two, and often unnoticed by fans, the ability to get the ball from the midfield into the attacking zone cleanly is a key to getting good scoring opportunities. The Opstal-Gorji connection appears to have mastered it, as Opstal has six goals and eight assists over the team’s five games, and Gorji has 13 goals and 10 assists, including a five-goal game against Sarasota Christian on Dec. 4, a 12-0 win.

Her final goal against the Blazers gave her 100 for her career, with just over a year and a half to go to play.  

“I didn't think about it until I got close to it,” Gorji said. "I'm glad I got it."

ODA junior forward Natalie Gorji dribbles during practice. She has 13 goals on the season, as of Dec. 13, and hit the career 100 goals mark against Sarasota Christian on Dec. 4.

Soccer success is about more than just two players though, and in addition to statistically leading the offense, Unzicker said Gorji and Opstal are two of the team’s leaders, helping teach the Thunder’s young players how to play at the varsity level. Opstal said the middle school players have impressed when given the opportunity, including seventh grader Abbey Burwood, who has two goals and two assists. Gorji said she is confident the team’s underclassmen have the ability to keep the program’s winning ways going once she and Opstal are gone.

Unzicker said managing expectations for a young team coming off a district title can be difficult, but watching things mentally click into place for the players is a fun experience as a coach. And the Thunder have been able to keep winning during the transition.

The one blemish on the Thunder’s record is a 1-0 home loss to Saint Stephen’s Episcopal on Nov. 28. Opstal said “a number of things,” led to the defeat, but the biggest thing was a lack of preparedness.

“We had not lost to them since I have been here,” Opstal said. “I think we just expected to win. We did not practice hard enough. But I’m excited to play them again in the district tournament.”

She and Gorji said they will not let a letdown like that happen twice, and with the duo scoring at the clip they are, there’s reason to fear the Thunder as the season hits its stretch.

I’m the sports reporter for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. I was born and raised in Olney, MD. My biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. My strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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