The style was elegant, a short passing possession game that is hard to teach and even more difficult to execute. Yet the Absegami girls' soccer team flourished with this style, in which they rarely wasted passes, controlled play for most of the game, and often knew when to attack.
The Braves responded to this style of coach Elizabeth Lee and had unprecedented success. Unranked in the preseason, Absegami finished 18-3-1, captured the Cape Atlantic American Conference title, and advanced to the championship games of the South Jersey Coaches Tournament and South Jersey Group 4 tournament, both times losing to No. 1 Lenape.
The Braves finished as The Inquirer's No. 2-ranked South Jersey team. For guiding the team to such a successful season, Lee is The Inquirer's South Jersey coach of the year.
Before the season, Lee changed the formation the team would use, basically going with four defenders, a flat back four. In her possession style, even the defenders handled the ball a majority of the time.
Lee said the players were apprehensive of the formation until an opening 1-0 win over Clearview.
"They saw how it could work then and really bought into it the entire season," Lee said. "They worked as hard as they could and really played a strong possession game."
While Absegami may have sneaked up on some teams, Lee knew this could be a special season. As the wins piled up, the Braves continued to gain more confidence.
"This was a special group," she said.
Lee, who is originally from Philadelphia, grew up in Tennessee and attended the University of Mississippi, where she played soccer. After attending graduate school at Auburn, she returned to the area as a teacher and coach at Absegami. In eight seasons, she has a career record of 92-40-11.
Lee was hoping to get invited to the Coaches Tournament, where 16 of the top teams compete in a single-elimination format. The Braves advanced with wins over three Olympic Conference teams - Timber Creek, Paul VI, and Bishop Eustace - and gave Lenape all it could handle in a memorable final.
Even in defeat the Braves distinguished themselves.
"It was the most exciting game I've ever been part of, so intense," Lee said.
The Braves could have reverted to a defensive style during the extra periods and play for a tie to be cochampions. Yet Lee felt that trying to win was worth more than settling for a tie.
"I don't like when teams pack it in, and it's not me," she said. "We wanted to go for the win and even though we didn't, it was a great game, and we walked away feeling good."
Lee wanted her players to compete, and whether they won or lost, it was the effort that counted.
That's a great lesson to teach a team, one that's even better than the most effective of soccer formations.