Marlena Ballnik hat-trick helps Manchester beat Monroe St. Mary

MANCHESTER – The Manchester women’s soccer team opened their season on Wednesday by hosting Monroe St. Mary and half an hour after kick-off, Marlena Ballnik clinched her first treble of the season.

The Dutch senior midfielder scored on 11, 23 and 27 minutes as Manchester beat the Kestrels 8-0.

Ballnik opened the scoring in the 10th minute, taking a pass to the edge of the penalty area and turning and firing with his left foot, sinking the shot just under the crossbar.

“I’m not left-handed,” she said. “Coming around, I saw an opportunity, so I stepped up and took it.”

In the 23rd minute, he took the lead in a goal kick to score. Minutes later he scored from a corner kick.

Although he scored three times, it was his passing ability that opened up the Kestrels’ defense early on. Long balls stretched the St. Mary’s defense several times in the opening minutes before it put the Flying Dutchmen on the board.

“Marlena is a great player,” Manchester manager Daniel Tar said. “She has a good soccer IQ. She knows what to do and where to send the ball, and she obviously has the ability to do it.”

Ballnik set up a goal by Mary Sangster in the 14th minute. A through ball from Ballnik found Sangster, whose initial shot bounced off the post, but the rebound came back to her and she finished it off.

That wasn’t the only time Ballnik had assisted Sangster, though St. Mary’s goalkeeper Madalyn Zaleski denied Sangster multiple times and a couple of chances for Sangster were flagged for offside.

“Mary is my favorite striker. She has been for the last three years,” Ballnik said. “Her athleticism of hers and her timing in her runs, when she starts running is when I play the ball, or if I yell ‘Mary,’ she goes. Scheduling the races well is the way we get ahead.”

Ballnik left the game after a stiff challenge early in the second half and did not return, but should be able to go to Manchester’s next game on April 4 at Leslie.

Manchester also got a goal in the 32nd minute from Emma Woods.

In the second half, Grace Helmke added a goal from the penalty spot in the 69th minute after being brought down on the edge of the box in an attack. Corners led to goals from Lydia Bennett and Gianna Turek in the 77th and 78th minute.

Manchester dominated possession almost from the start. Ballnik, playing long high passes from midfield, led to several other scoring chances for the Flying Dutchmen, and Zaleski was called on time and again to deny scoring chances.

St. Mary’s had an excellent scoring chance from the start, with Nora Kinsey dribbling towards the Manchester winger before she was parried away by Bennett. Manchester’s defensive line kept most of the Kestrels’ chances away from goalkeeper Megan Edwards, who made two saves in the first half. Most of the action for Edwards was stepping up to claim long passes before a Kestrels forward could get to the end of them.

“We have good speed on our defensive line, especially with Lydia Bennett, Emma Hock and Abbi Austin,” Tar said. “Even when they make mistakes, they have the speed to get past anybody’s dribbler, and they were fearlessly stepping back and cutting them off.”

Manchester outshot St. Mary’s 36-3 with a 24-2 advantage in shots on goal and an 8-1 advantage in corner kicks.

“I saw a lot of gaps between the midfield and having a good connection with my team and always paying with them in the last three years, we’ve developed a lot of runs that just connect,” Ballnik said. “When I have that opportunity, I take it. It is about seizing the opportunity that presents itself.”


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