By Matthew Snyder
University High School sophomore midfielder Adam Dolinsky twice found himself open on the left wing during the first five minutes of the second half in Monday’s non-league matchup against Branson on Friday at the Crocker Amazon Soccer Fields, but his teammates failed to pick him out with a pass on both occasions.
Then in the 46th minute, junior forward Sam Reyes won possession in the center of the field and, after steering two defenders along with him, Reyes nudged a pass with the outside of his right foot into the path of Dolinsky, who finally made his diagonal run in on goal.
Dolinsky raced onto the pass and fired an unstoppable shot past Branson goalkeeper Ben Kullavanijaya, who could do nothing but watch it fly into the top-left corner.
That goal proved to be all University would need in an impressive 1-0 non-league victory that provided a small measure of revenge for their 2-0 loss to the Bulls in last season’s North Coast Section Division II semifinals.
“I just had to shoot it, and I just took a couple steps, took the shot, and it felt right,” Dolinsky said.
University (11-4-2) has now won its past six games.
“We did what we needed to do and it was a good game,” said University head coach Deejae Johnson. “We started out great in the second half. We got the goal and from there I think it’s just seeing out the game. We had a couple more chances and guys were playing well. Branson was going to push on for a goal, and we had to react, and we did.”
Branson (8-7-1) started the game much stronger, using frenzied pressure throughout the first 15 minutes to force University firmly onto its back foot. The Bulls’ midfield and defense expertly intercepted wayward Red Devils passes, and looked to release speedy, powerful forwards Kipling Weisel and Conor Rounds into chances on goal.
But thanks to excellent play from University’s central defense – particularly junior center back Wyatt Kim – the Red Devils succeeded in weathering the attacking deluge, allowing Johnson to make some much-needed tactical changes to jolt his side.
Senior Michael Lauricella, who started the game on the right wing, dropped into central midfield, where he replaced junior Diego Lopes, who was substituted for freshman forward Freddy Yao.
The pairing of Lauricella and junior Alex Warren in the middle of the field completely changed the game’s tenor, and allowed University to implement the fluid passing system Johnson favors.
“Diego was having a hard time completing his passes and Michael is just a little more physical, and that’s important sometimes,” Johnson said. “So it’s nice that we have the depth so that we can play a couple different ways. Michael did a good job of making his impact seen at that position.”
Lauricella, who has struggled with a balky left hamstring this season stemming from an initial tear nine months ago (he limped off five minutes before Monday’s final whistle with an apparent strain in the same thigh), was brilliant for the rest of the half.
Warren’s solid positioning in deeper midfield allowed Lauricella the freedom to roam. He frequently broke up Branson’s passes, and used his pace, passing and individual skill to push forward toward goal and put the Bulls’ defense under pressure.
Kim earned University’s first shot on goal in the 20th minute, firing a drive from the top of the penalty area that Kullavanijaya parried away to his left. Warren got to the rebound, but pushed his shot just wide.
After Kim embarked upon a mazy run through the center of the field minutes later, he fell under a Branson challenge just at the top of the penalty area. The ball bounced into the path of Lauricella, who caught his volley perfectly and shot directly at Kullavanijaya, who pushed the effort over the top of goal and out for a corner.
Yao had two golden chances to score late in the first half, but when his first effort hit the post, he sent the rebound just wide.
University carried the first-half momentum into the next period, and within six minutes they had the winner.
“Basically, I won the ball through a 50-50 challenge on the right side, and I started sprinting the ball to the left, and I saw that Adam Dolinsky was free, and so I passed through a channel, and he had a great shot,” Reyes said, “It went top corner, and we scored.”
The winning goal was one of eight shots on target and 11 overall for the Red Devils. Branson managed eight shots, with three on target, all of which came during the second half, when Branson head coach Thomas Ryan sent four forwards into the attack as he pushed for an equalizer.
The Bulls had their best chances during the final minutes, when they forced three corner kicks and nearly scored on a right-footed shot from Grant Duhamel, but University goalkeeper Jack Wilson dropped quickly to his left and saved the effort.
A senior, Wilson entered this season as a forward, but after one goalkeeper transferred out of University in late August and the second keeper on the roster, Alex Ederer, suffered a concussion in mid-September, Wilson took over.
“[Wilson] does a great job in goal,” Johnson said. “We’re lucky that he’s calm, he’s comfortable and athletic, so he can get to a lot of stuff. He’s really learning the position quickly.”
The two teams have not played in the same league since 2000, when Branson left the Bay Counties League West for the Marin County Athletic League, but they face each other every season in non-league play. Johnson and Ryan both noted that the regular-season game often plays an important role in the eyes of the NCS selection committee.
“Even though we only see each other once a year, both teams have a lot of pride in what they do and also have a rich soccer history,” Ryan said. “You know we’re going to pick up where we left off [last year], even though we’re not in the same league anymore.”
Johnson echoed that sentiment.
“Branson is a big rival, for sure,” Johnson said. “In the last 14 years, there’s only been three teams that have won the NCS [champiponship] in our school size – Marin Academy, Branson and us. So those are always the two schools that we put a little asterisk next to, and make sure that we’re ready to play. We’ll probably see them again, and we’ll have to play a little better, I think, to win.”