Gill, LaPorte a dynamic duo for Whiteland girls soccer

Emma Gill and Alexa LaPorte were in middle school when Nick Magdalinos took over as Whiteland’s girls soccer coach. They watched that first group of Warriors start from rock bottom — getting outscored 96-10 and winning just one of 16 matches in 2019 — but also saw a culture being established.

In the years that followed, those two have built a fairly impressive structure atop that initial foundation.

Gill and LaPorte both earned All-County recognition after helping the Warriors to a 10-win season a year ago, and they’re at it again this fall, leading the way for a squad that takes a 5-2-1 record into tonight’s Mid-State Conference match at Perry Meridian.

“It’s great, because they’re two different kinds of players, and they play off of each other so well that it’s hard for one team to game plan for both — because they’re so different in what they do,” Magdalinos said. “Alexa’s going to beat you a different way than Emma beats you, and they’re just both so technically sound.”

Now a fourth-year starter up front, Gill broke through last fall with a team-leading 18 goals, with LaPorte contributing 10 goals and a team-leading nine assists as a sophomore. This season, they’ve again paced the Warrior offense; Gill has eight goals and LaPorte five, while they’ve contributed three assists apiece.

They’ve enjoyed doing it together. Though they’ve never been club teammates, they’re in their third year playing high school soccer together and the connection has become seamless.

“I love Emma so much,” LaPorte said. “Honestly, we look for the same things in the team and we just want the team to be successful.”

“We both play at the same pace,” Gill added. “She looks for me behind because she knows I have pace. I feel like we know each other’s strengths and we just play off of that.”

Gill’s primary strength in her freshman year was her speed, and she used it to score 10 goals as a breakaway threat. As she’s rounded out her game, both in high school play and with her club team at FC Pride, she’s become far more dangerous in other ways.

Magdalinos says that while that long-ball threat is still there — Gill’s speed made her a regional qualifier in the 200-meter dash as a sophomore, and she helped Whiteland’s 4×100 relay finish 15th in the state this past spring — he’s much more comfortable now letting her work with the ball at her feet.

He’s also seen a big difference in her ability to put the ball in the net as she’s gotten more comfortable looking up while preparing to shoot.

“I actually pick my head up when I pick a spot out in the goal, and I’ve gotten better at finishing,” Gill said.

LaPorte, meanwhile, possesses an innate feel for what needs to be done in any given moment.

“She’s got a high soccer IQ for a junior,” Magdalinos said. “She’s been around the game, she knows it. She knows when to pass, when to dribble, when to shoot. She’s just got a real feel, and her and Emma have just formed that — they kind of know where each other’s going to be, and they kind of know in certain situations one’s going to do this, the other’s going to do that. It’s just kind of their zen together.

“I’d love to say I have something to do with it, but it’s them.”

It’s also the supporting cast around them. Sophomores Madison Fleury and Rhianna Hardy are providing some additional offensive punch out of the midfield, and a defense anchored by senior Aliya Perkins has gotten a major boost from the addition of junior Addison Emberton — a state discus medalist and a starter on the basketball court — at goalkeeper.

Magdalinos credits last year’s senior class, his first four-year group, with building a winning culture — but he says this year’s team “has taken it up a notch.” The expectations are getting higher, and these Warriors are looking to accomplish something that no soccer team, boys or girls, has ever accomplished in the school’s history.

“I honestly think that this is our year to win a sectional title,” Gill said. “We have a lot of good athletes on our team … I think we’re going to do great this year in sectionals.”

“I think we can win this thing,” LaPorte echoed.

While perhaps too diplomatic to come out and make that same prediction, their coach agrees that the ingredients are there to contend.

“We’ve got a really good culture built, and I think they truly being around each other and being around the coaching staff and the fans,” Magdalinos said. “This group is special.”