A new season and a new Merkle Girls soccer: Catholic is rebuilding and struggling. Which means midfielder Allison Merkle, the team's best player, teaches as she plays goal.

September 24, 1998|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

Catholic girls soccer coach Jerry Dieter has just one problem with senior Allison Merkle -- she can't be in two places at once.

For two years, Merkle dominated the midfield for a powerhouse Cubs team that was ranked as high as No. 4 in the nation. She helped the Cubs win the Catholic League A Division championship and earn the final No. 1 ranking last fall, but much has changed.

Few starters remain on a young team that has been lacking in confidence and offensive punch. Before Tuesday's 3-1 win over Institute of Notre Dame, the Cubs were winless and had scored only once.

Those changes in the team brought on a change for Merkle. To have a chance at winning, Dieter had to move the All-Metro midfielder into the nets.

"She's worth her weight in gold as a keeper, because everything in front of her is so young," said Dieter. "She's very confident, very sure of her ability. If something does happen, she doesn't hang her head. She doesn't cave."

An Olympic Development Program player, Merkle plays midfield for the Under-19 Columbia Magic, but she also has club experience in the nets. As a Cubs freshman, she earned All-Catholic League honors as a keeper.

Still, Merkle remains a reluctant keeper.

"I didn't like [playing in the goal] in my freshman year, because our team was so power-packed that I didn't see much action," she said. "Now, with a young team and with the teams we're playing against, I see a lot more action. It's not as boring, and I know I'm of use to the team."

Merkle's value as a keeper was obvious from the season opener against then-No. 1 McDonogh. She started at midfield, but the Eagles scored two goals in the first 16 minutes. Dieter moved Merkle back, and she shut out the Eagles for the rest of the half.

In the next game against No. 4 Mercy, Merkle played the entire game in goal. She made 16 saves, and the Cubs ended up in a tie.

"Merk's a terrific athlete," said McDonogh coach Maurice Boylan Jr. "She's got a great work ethic. She's driven. She's competitive. She's got strength, power, finesse, game sense. I'd love to have her on my team."

Merkle has allowed just four goals -- three to Good Counsel in a 7-1 loss. In that Sept. 12 game, she made 18 saves. The next day, she had 24 in a 0-0 tie with Pius VI. She also scored the goal vs. Good Counsel, which was the only goal the Cubs (1-3-2) scored in their first five games.

"She's carrying a great deal of weight on her shoulders," said Dieter. "She's literally carrying us on her back. I tell the other kids, 'You've got to play in front of her, because she's saving our skin.'"

Merkle realizes that she plays a vital role in the development of the young players, especially with All-Metro Player of the Year Becky Bieneman, who scored 25 goals last year, sidelined for most of the season with a knee injury.

"It's a big change going from being ranked fourth nationally to struggling to win a game," said Merkle, "but it's just something that comes with the game. You can't always be up there.

"These girls are on the right road. They have the best attitudes. I can tell them what they need to do, and they might not accomplish it the first time, but soon, you'll see progress. I love the sport so much. As long as somebody's getting out of it what I get out of it, I'm happy."

Although club and Cubs soccer consumes most of her time, Merkle still manages a diverse extracurricular load while maintaining a 3.86 grade-point average. She plays softball and basketball for the Cubs, belongs to the National Honor Society, serves as student council vice president and plays alto saxophone in the band.

In college, she will focus on soccer, which she has played since age 5. Merkle has narrowed her list to four schools.

"Looking down the road at whatever college is going to end up with Merk, some coach is going to be very lucky," said Dieter. "You can pretty much do anything with this kid. She's got got it all."

Pub Date: 9/24/98

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