Throwing herself into action

Girls soccer: Though kicking is the key skill in soccer, River Hill defender Megan Buescher uses the throw-in as an effective weapon for the No. 2 Hawks.

September 19, 2001|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

She can't throw a baseball, cringes when she imagines herself flinging a javelin and says she harbors no secret quarterbacking dreams.

But can Megan Buescher ever throw a soccer ball. Far, fast, on a line, from the sideline to the far post - if a teammate can run to it, Buescher can get them the ball.

"I haven't seen anyone that's really comparable," says River Hill coach Joan Kelso Smedley. "A few times you'll see players that can throw it far, but it's always high in the air, never a line drive like Megan's. She just whips it, and it comes at you hard. If you don't know where it's going, you don't have time to react."

It's odd, no doubt, that in a sport where kicking is generally the focus of the game, Buescher would attain a level of notice simply because of her mastery of the throw-in, a somewhat simplistic exercise to the layman.

But that's what's happened to the River Hill junior defender over the past three seasons, as the 6-foot Buescher has undoubtedly become one of the area's best soccer players by injecting power and art into an act that can often be quite mechanical and very much ordinary.

"I think I've always been able to do it that way because my arms are really flexible," Buescher says. "I can take the ball pretty far back behind my head and get my body into it."

Buescher's prowess might be the worst kept secret in the area, as wide-eyed teams quickly realized she could place the ball in front of the net nearly every time from anywhere inside midfield. But knowing what's going to happen and stopping it are two different things entirely.

No one knows that more than St. Mary's after the Pioneer Shootout this year. Labeled by area coaches during the preseason as an overwhelming favorite throughout the year, the then top-ranked Saints didn't and couldn't stop River Hill - namely Buescher - in a 2-0 loss Sept. 7. The Hawks scored a key goal late in the game when Buescher fired a pass across the field to forward Aubrey Cronin, who redirected it for an easy score.

"In all honesty, we couldn't handle the long throw-in," St. Mary's coach Jerry Tobin said after the game. "That's the third year in a row we've had problems with that [against River Hill]."

Says Buescher: "We play [St. Mary's] every year in that tournament, and every year we've known it was going to be a really big game. They said they were `head and shoulders above anyone else' and that really gave us a push to go in and beat them."

This season has presented an entirely different challenge for Buescher, as well as for her teammates. Winners of two consecutive 3A state titles, the Hawks were something of an unknown quantity this year even though they were coming off an undefeated season. River Hill has only one senior starter - midfielder Ashley Hooper - starts five sophomores and a freshman, and aside from Buescher, lacks overall size at most positions.

Yet the Hawks are 4-1 and ranked No. 2 with shutout wins over St. Mary's and John Carroll, two of the best teams in the area. Buescher, an all-Metro defender a year ago who still had 12 assists, has given the Hawks a major presence again on defense, and was the lighthouse for the team during a stormy week in which the Hawks were upset by Urbana and lost one of their best players, Fana Walcott, who suddenly moved to Georgia.

"Megan is very steady and pretty even-headed," Smedley says. "She doesn't get upset, doesn't really scream on the field. She's got a great sense of humor, but she's pretty serious when she needs to be. With everything we've been going through, like losing Fana, it's been nice to have her as a steadying influence."

Says Buescher: "I like having a leadership role. It makes me feel good and important to have the younger players look up to me. I remember when I was a freshman, I was so scared of the older players, but at the same time, I worshiped them. Now, that I'm one of those people, and the younger ones look up to me, it makes me feel like I have to be a huge role model."

It also helps, Smedley says, that Buescher is one of the most coachable players she's ever had. Like a sailboat with a reliable rudder, Smedley needs only to point Buescher in the right direction and watch as she takes the Hawks to special places. And along the way, if her throw-ins happen to leave a spectator or two slack-jawed, that's a bonus.

"Most of the teams we play know it's coming, but sometimes I'll hear a couple of people on the sidelines be like, `Whoa!' " Buescher says with a smile. "That feels pretty good."

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