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Plum grad Amato adjusts to position change at Akron

| Monday, Sept. 18, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Plum graduate Ashley Amato is a sophomore soccer player at Plum for the 2017 season.
Akron athletics
Plum graduate Ashley Amato is a sophomore soccer player at Plum for the 2017 season.

Ashley Amato went through a transition in the summer from defense to forward and was set to debut in her new position in front of family and friends when Akron's women's soccer team traveled to Robert Morris for its season opener in August, but an injury in the final team scrimmage scrapped those plans.

Instead Amato, a Plum grad and former Valley News Dispatch girls soccer Player of the Year, had to sit on the sidelines and rehab her ailment.

When she finally got clearance to make her first start in her sophomore season for the Zips on Sept. 8 against Dayton, she made an immediate impact.

Amato scored a pair of goals in a 3-2 loss against the Flyers, who have made the NCAA Tournament five of the past eight years. The disappointment of not getting to play close to home in the season opener was washed away by having a good debut to the season.

“It was kind of a surreal feeling,” Amato said. “The first one just kind of landed in front of me, and I kicked it. I didn't even see it go in. I turned and saw everybody coming at me excited, so that was a pretty cool feeling. It was just fun to be back out there.”

Now that she's close to full strength, Amato hopes to help a young Zips team as they get ready to enter Mid-American Conference play next weekend.

Amato made the MAC All-Freshman team as a defender last year, but with the loss of some forwards to graduation there was a need for help on the attack. Akron coach Noreen Herlihy saw Amato as a good fit to fill that void.

“Wherever you play her, she'll do a pretty good job,” Herlihy said. “We were looking at a couple of different options up top, and we think Ashley can contribute pretty successfully up front. She's improving in every aspect to be honest. Deep down, she's a competitor when she goes out on the field. She's tough, physical, quick and powerful. She has all the tools to be a very successful college player.”

Amato is still getting comfortable with the position change at the college level, but was a decorated forward at Plum, scoring 30 goals her senior year. She was second on the Zips with four goals as a defender last year.

“It's definitely been a process,” Amato said. “It's like a completely different feel. Sometimes I still want to defend the ball, but I just have to stay up field. It's been a big transition, but the coaches have been helping a lot. I'm just trying to do my best and put the ball in the back of the net.”

Herlihy said the Zips are the second-youngest team in NCAA Division I women's soccer, behind only New Mexico. They are starting eight freshmen and have only one senior. Amato knows two of the freshmen — Annamarie Alfery (Fox Chapel) and Riley Watt (Penn-Trafford) — from playing against them in high school.

The Zips fell to 1-6-1 following Friday's 1-0 loss to Duquesne, their fourth consecutive one-goal loss. Amato expects the team to grow entering conference play.

“We have some entertaining characters, and everyone wants to play hard,” Amato said. “We don't think age matters. We just go into every practice to compete and try to make each other better. Even though we're young, we have a good sense of maturity about us. We know what goals what we want to accomplish and what we need to do to achieve them.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.

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