Melina Towlen has noticed a big difference in her final season with the Ewing High School girls’ soccer team.
It’s not a position change. She was born playing center midfielder it seems.It’s the role she has on top of playing that key spot in the field as a senior and a captain in her third year on varsity.
“It’s a big difference from sophomore year,” Towlen said. “Sophomore year I was always looking for that spot to start. When I got in the game, I’d be really anxious to prove myself. Senior year, I’ve calmed down a lot. Now it’s more of a leader spot rather than trying to fit in with the seniors that were before me.”
Towlen is hoping to help the Blue Devils raise their standards as she looks to set up a brighter future for the program. It’s off to a promising start.
“I think that already compared to last season we’re much more of a team,” Towlen said. “We work well together. It is a really good mix of students, a lot from each grade and a lot of talent.”
Ewing gained some confidence when it won one of its first three games of the year, 4-1, over Hamilton West with freshman Sydney Smith scoring two goals, sophomore Emani Ellis adding a goal, and freshman Thalia Hearns scoring a goal. Hamilton beat Ewing last year, and turning the tables shows some new confidence.
The team has a mix of veteran players and new contributors. Towlen has been on varsity since she was moved up for a taste of it in the Mercer County Tournament freshman year. Then there are freshmen like Smith and Hearns, and Hazel Penner, who gave a memorable post-game reminder after Ewing fell to Hopewell Valley.
“A lot of the girls speak up and reflect after games, which is wonderful, but specifically this stuck with me,” said Ewing head coach Shannon Pedersen.
Pedersen has brought a little stability as well. She is back for her second season after the EHS program had three different coaches in four years.
“I definitely feel like I have my feet under me more absolutely,” Pedersen said. “The girls deserve all the credit because they make my job easy. They’re constantly wanting to better me as a coach and wanting to better themselves.”
The Blue Devils have a strong desire to develop the program. There are little steps that this year’s team has shown that are the mark of good teams.
“What I’ve been really excited about now with this group of young ladies is their ability to possess the ball,” Pedersen said. “They bring a fresh new look to the game, and it’s nice to watch them cohesively work together and be able to knock the ball around at a higher level.”
Towlen has been consistent in the center. Her experience comes through in the middle of the action.
“Melina is one of the most composed players I’ve had the pleasure of coaching thus far,” Pedersen said. “She’s a leader on and off the field. I can’t say enough nice things about her. She lifts the team up in practice, and she lifts the team up in tough moments. She has great vision, ball control, and she pushes her teammates with her level to do better.”
Towlen is one of the team’s senior leaders. Ewing has gotten a boost from having strong representation from each of its classes. There is healthy competition for playing time, and that has helped to push the team to bigger goals.
“The seniors, a majority of them are starters and a lot get substantial minutes,” Pedersen said. “There are freshmen, and sophomores and juniors that are starting as well. It’s nice because the team is very versatile. I enjoy having depth in all three positions.”
In Marian Ordonez, the Blue Devils have a selfless player starting at goalie. She sets a good example.
“She originally started out in the program as a field player,” Pedersen said. “She is 100 percent a team player in realizing she has an ability in goal. When we needed a goalie, she rose to the plate for that. She’s a tremendous leader, a voice in the back for our defense, and she’s a phenomenal goalie.”
If Ewing can overcome some of the pitfalls that have cost them this year, they will be able to establish a higher level of play going forward.
“I think mostly we can improve on not getting frustrated with each other when things don’t go our way,” Towlen said. “As much team bonding as we’ve done, when we’re losing we start to get angry. We start to fall apart a little bit. We have to push through when we get tired. When we’re tired, we struggle with that a little bit.”
As of Sept. 24, Ewing had lost four straight games following its win over Hamilton, but continued to focus on improving steadily in hopes of building momentum.
“What I emphasize to the girls in moving forward in the season is no matter win or loss, no matter up or down, you play with integrity, you play with that Ewing heart, soul and pride,” Pedersen said.
Towlen is encouraged by the first month of play. She hopes for a strong finish to her final season at Ewing before she begins looking for a potential match for which to play soccer collegiately next year. She is hoping to leave a Ewing team after establishing a foundation for success.
“I honestly think this group shows a lot of hope for Ewing girls’ soccer,” Towlen said. “The girls that show a lot of potential—the freshmen—they’re young. The team will step up and they can be good leaders in the future because they’ve started out strong. They could improve and by their senior year, they could become a better team. Even if it’s not my year, I want them to be better. It could be a slow process, but we’ll get there.”