TALLMADGE — When it comes to the harrowing word known as adversity, Confucius may have said it best.
"The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials," the ancient Chinese philosopher and politician once quipped.
For the Tallmadge girls soccer team, this intricate refining process had been a rather laggard one in the early stages of the season.
It’s picking up considerable speed now, though.
The host Blue Devils earned their third consecutive victory after scoring a convincing 5-2 win over Akron Ellet Monday at Tallmadge Blue Devils Stadium.
With the win, Tallmadge improved to 3-3 and has made a dramatic turnaround after an inauspicious first two weeks of the season.
The Blue Devils, who were humbled by a pair of robust conference rivals and a larger crossover foe in their first three outings, have started to develop their own rationalist ethical philosophy. This newfound wisdom has come full circle since their temporary escape from the vaunted Suburban League.
Thus, the Tallmadge players have learned a valuable lesson from a certain old proverb: "Every flower must grow through dirt."
"It was a good game," Blue Devils head coach Steve Davis said. "I was proud of the girls."
One of those blue and gold flowers passed through the germination and pollination stages long before she made her way to the pitch Monday.
Kate Hussing is one of the few Tallmadge players who is spreading her seeds. She scored a game-high four goals and added an assist. The sturdy senior forward used both brawn and beauty to overwhelm Orangemen’s defense.
If Hussing wasn’t muscling her way through several white jerseys to attack the goal, she used her balletic footwork to dance away from congested traffic jams.
Hussing scored her team’s first two goals, including the go-ahead tally that deflected off an Ellet defender and into the net. She also put the finishing touches on her team’s win when she scored the last two goals.
Farah Heestand also found the net for Tallmadge off an assist from Hussing, who received a pass from Natalie Onchak on the left side.
Davis certainly didn’t mind watching balls fly through the opponents’ net with alarming frequency. If he had his way, Davis would have preferred a few more aerial displays.
"We’re getting better now in composure in certain situations, trying to find the goal and actually finish," he said. "There was certainly a bunch of chances we could have scored."
Once the Blue Devils asserted themselves, the Orangemen had trouble keeping pace. Nevertheless, much like their season thus far, Tallmadge’s crude pieces of mineral crystal lacked their exquisite shine until later.
When Rachel Wenzel scored off a cross from Ava Haltena, Ellet tied the game at one nearly 18 minutes into the game.
"Rachel Wenzel is a good forward," Davis said. "Sydney Tucker also is a good scoring threat and her sister, Cameron, gets her the ball. We had to be wary of how we dealt with them.
"It was a little tricky in the beginning because they played really wide apart. We couldn’t figure out how we were supposed to mark those players. But once we figured out how we were going to solve it, I felt like the game got better."
To solve this equation, Davis needed his defense to be wary of the Orangemen’s gifted trio of playmakers wherever they turned.
If the plan went awry, the consequences could have been disastrous.
"If they can find the ball to those players, we’re in trouble," Davis said. "We wanted to deny the service into those players. Let’s make sure we put people in the final third as much as we can."
The Blue Devils heeded their coach’s advice. As a result, Ellet didn’t have a chance. Once Tallmadge took extreme measures to protect its borders, the Orangemen’s free space to operate was about as scarce as a drop of water in Death Valley.
Such an impenetrable wall opened the floodgates for the Blue Devils’ offense, which put matters to rest for much of the final 40 minutes.
The Orangemen scored the last goal when Sydney Tucker converted a penalty kick with less than two minutes left. Too little, too late for Ellet, which dropped to 6-3 on the season.
The Blue Devils had a 14-9 advantage in shots on goal and a 6-1 edge in corner kicks. Tallmadge goalkeeper Maryn Montgomery made eight saves, while Ellett goalie Savannah Bunn also stopped eight shots.
The Blue Devils, who lost Julia Onchak to an ankle sprain in the first half, proved they could handle non-Suburban League opponents rather easily. But the temporary vacation from the extremely rugged American Conference has officially ended.
Tallmadge is set to play the rest of its conference schedule in the coming weeks. This sort of reality can be a cruel one for the Blue Devils, who have often been overmatched against several of their imposing rivals since the league expanded to a 15-team, two-conference format in 2015.
It also presents numerous opportunities to establish a legacy. Or, as 20th-century senator Robert F. Kennedy once said: "Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly."
"We’re gaining some momentum coming into our league games," Davis said.
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.