Upper Arlington Roundup: Golden Bears' Sophie Esquinas anchors defense for girls soccer team

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
Upper Arlington girls soccer midfielder Sophie Esquinas has taken on a defensive-minded role this season. Esquinas, a junior, has become one of the leaders of a unit that allowed just seven goals during the team's 6-0-1 start.

Talking to his team after a recent practice, Upper Arlington girls soccer coach Andrew Kessinger used a simile to describe midfielder Sophie Esquinas’ role. 

“She’s like that fish in the fish bowl who is cleaning the tank, doing the job no one notices but that you really need,” Kessinger said. “Everybody on this team loves her and respects her and the role she plays, even if they might not realize exactly how crucial it is.” 

Previously an offensive-minded midfielder who began concentrating on defense this year, Esquinas smiled at that description of her role as a sweeper. 

“I think the analogy works really well. You do all the dirty work and it benefits the team, which is most important and that’s what wins games,” Esquinas said. 

A junior who is in her second year as a full-time varsity player and will be a three-year letterwinner, Esquinas has helped key a defensive effort that helped UA outscore its opponents 23-10 in its first seven games. The Bears were 6-1-1 before playing Fairbanks on Sept. 26 and opened OCC-Central Division play with a 3-2 loss at Olentangy Liberty on Sept. 22. 

The Golden Bears had three shutout wins before Sept. 26. 

Esquinas originally anticipated a more offensive role, but that quickly changed early this season based on personnel and her own talents. She generally guards the opponent’s best offensive player. 

“We realized we needed a more defensive (midfielder) to step up and hold position. I just kind of took on that role,” Esquinas said. “(The advantage in goals) says a lot. Our forwards have been holding the ball up top really well and we’ve been able to attack and score so many goals, and as a result, it keeps the pressure off our defensive players.” 

Kessinger estimated that Esquinas runs between six and seven miles per game. 

“She covers a lot of ground doing all the little things the coaching staff loves to see - winning tackles, winning 50-50 balls, getting back early on defense and getting the defense organized,” Kessinger said. “She was probably a player that, early on, we did not anticipate to be one of our captains. I was coming in new and captains weren’t named, but then we were able to work with the girls pretty much all summer. She was just steady and consistent, one of the most fit athletes in the group.” 

An injury to fellow midfielder Camryn Callaghan meant that Esquinas became a teacher as well, helping bring Senna Mieth and Maren Stamm into more prominent defensive-minded positions. 

Teammate Adiah Bonham, who played midfield with Esquinas last year but moved to center back this year, admitted a new vantage point has helped her appreciate her former position. 

“Some of our center mids might get wrapped up in wanting to go forward and if we lose the ball, it’s OK because the center backs will get it, but Sophie is really good at being a very defensive midfielder,” Bonham said. “I really didn’t notice the importance last year of playing back, marking and making sure we don’t lose the ball. Being a center back now, I definitely don’t want them to lose the ball.” 

Cohesiveness helping field hockey team 

Twelve players scored at least one goal during the field hockey team’s 8-3 start, something coach Sara Greaves considers evidence of improved team play as the Bears pursue the COFHL-West championship. 

“A lot of girls are getting involved. Before, we’ve been led by one or two key scorers, but I think every forward has at least one goal and we even had a defender (Caroline Campbell) get a goal off a corner,” Greaves said. “That’s a lot better than last year. We have a lot of veterans on the team, but the girls are still learning and continuing to grow.” 

Katie Webber had 11 goals and Emily Barker had eight through 11 games for UA, which was 8-3 overall before playing New Albany on Sept. 30 and improved to 7-0 in the COFHL-West with a 5-2 win over Dublin Jerome on Sept. 23. 

The Bears had scored five goals four times in a six-game stretch before playing New Albany. They went 5-1 in those games, with the only loss a 3-0 setback to defending state champion Columbus Academy on Sept. 17. 

Even including that loss, UA allowed only 12 goals in its first 11 games. 

“Obviously Academy has had a strong program for years, and that’s the closest we’ve played in a long time,” Greaves said. “Nobody likes moral victories but even in a loss like that, you can judge your improvement. In other years, we might have hung our heads if we fell behind a team like that. We didn’t do that.” 

UA faced a stretch of challenging games beginning against New Albany, which was 8-0-1 entering last week and was a district runner-up last year. The Bears also visit perennial power Thomas Worthington on Oct. 12 to wrap up COFHL-West play. 

“We have some tough games but winnable games,” Greaves said. “We’re going out with the mentality that we can win.”   

Boys soccer team faces tough schedule 

The boys soccer team’s 2-0 home loss to Liberty in OCC-Central play Sept. 22 began a stretch of three consecutive games against teams ranked sixth or better in last week’s Division I state poll. 

UA, which fell to 4-2-2 overall and 1-1 in the league with the loss to the sixth-ranked Patriots, visited fourth-ranked Medina on Sept. 26 before playing host to third-ranked Pickerington North on Sept. 29. Those teams were a combined 23-1-3 through games of Sept. 22. 

The loss to Liberty snapped a five-game unbeaten streak for the Bears. 

Max Collier and Theo Constantinides shared the team lead in goals with three each through eight games, followed by Josh Shepherd and Alex Woods with two each.   

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com 

@ThisWeekDave