Jon Gerardi on high school soccer: Neumann girls take pride in playing
If you had gone to watch a practice this year for the St. John Neumann girls soccer team, you would have been surprised at what you saw.
There weren’t any full scrimmages to simulate game action. Rather it was a 3-on-3 practice game, or maybe even 4-on-4. That’s because for the Golden Knights, there isn’t a huge roster depth available for them.
Neumann’s roster consists of just nine players, so practice-wise, they have to just work with what they have available.
“Only time we get full field is when we’re out playing games, so it makes learning the game for the new girls pretty difficult,” St. John Neumann coach Chris Vanaskie said. “They’ve come a long way.”
A lot of players may not have even bothered going out to play soccer if they knew they would only have that small of a roster. They probably wouldn’t have wanted to play knowing there was a full 80-minutes they’d be on the field with no substitutions at all. They may not have wanted to suit up knowing they would have to play with only nine players on a field instead of 11.
But that’s not St. John Neumann. The girls on the team embrace their situation and they have a ton of pride putting on that St. John Neumann uniform every game.
“We all have so much pride and heart. Many people wouldn’t play a season of soccer with nine players and zero subs. This shows how much pride we have as a team,” St. John Neumann junior Shayna McNamee said. “I love playing for Neumann no matter how many players we have and what the outcome may be. The pride we have for our team motivates all of us to try our hardest and never give up.”
And not giving up is what the Golden Knights do game after game, day after day. The scores may be lopsided at times — Muncy won, 13-3, for example just last week against the Golden Knights — but that doesn’t necessarily deter the Golden Knights. They know they are in for a challenge every day with their roster size and having to play 9-on-9 games against opponents instead of the traditional 11-on-11. The Golden Knights only played one game this entire season with a full 11 players on the field. Every other game featured just nine.
And having only nine on a field is an adjustment Neumann was trying to get used to. It created a bigger field to try to cover.
“We had to kind of figure it out as we’ve gone along: how to cover space on the field, how to create an offense out of that, how to figure out the defense, which has been the biggest struggle,” Vanaskie said.
“We have tried many different set ups on the field, but none of them really clicked because we always had parts of the field that seemed to be completely empty at some points of the games,” McNamee said. “We’ve adjusted well this season, but it’s hard adjusting to only nine players on the field.”
Sure, the players are competitive and want to win just like any other high school athlete, but despite the results and losses, St. John Neumann has fun playing the game.
“We see other teams showing up to games with 20 girls or even more where we show up with nine. We realize we’re at a disadvantage but we still try our hardest to make the best out of every game. Of course our No. 1 goal is to win, but having fun and enjoying the game is another big thing to us,” McNamee said. “We have taken some hard loses this season, but we have never given up. We are always smiling and having a good time, no matter what the score is. I am really thankful to be a part of a team like this. We have so much heart and passion, I think it sets us apart from other teams. We’re special.”
Prior to the loss to Muncy last week, Vanaskie and his girls talked about motivation. And as Vanaskie put it, it wasn’t what motivates the girls to play, it’s what motivates them to keep playing and keep coming out every day.
“Because it’s not easy and these girls show a lot of character. Coming out day after day knowing that it’s not going to be easy, every game’s going to be difficult (and) practices are also difficult with just a few players,” Vanaskie said. “They have to give their all at practices as well. They showed a lot of character, what their character is and fact they can keep coming out here every day. It’s motivating for me. It helps me keep going, but I told them at beginning I won’t give up on them as long as they don’t give up on me. So far they haven’t and they won’t.”
Because giving up is something the St. John Neumann girls just don’t do. It isn’t in them, regardless of what the scores may end up.
“We’ve known there’s a few games we know we aren’t going to be able to compete to win, but we can at least go out there and have fun,” Vanaskie said. “They know to enjoy every goal, enjoy every pass, enjoy every save. Enjoy every moment and that’s what they’re doing.”
TWO BIRDS WITH
In St. John Neumann’s season finale on Wednesday afternoon, junior goalie Addy Matz recorded 23 saves in a tight 3-2 loss to CMVT. But the 23 saves meant that Matz set not one, but two school records in the process.
First, she broke coach Chris Vanaskie’s single-season mark of saves in a season and set the record at 265. Secondly, it meant she also broke Pat Roman’s career record of saves in a Golden Knights uniform, now at 545. Matz also broke the single-game saves record this season when she recorded 39.
“Breaking three records my junior year was an amazing accomplishment. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to break records that my own coach set, but I couldn’t have done it without him or my team behind me,” Matz said. “Our season may have been rough, but I’d rather play every game with my team I have than win games with any other team, and I really enjoyed having something to celebrate and share with my amazing teammates.”
“She was very excited about breaking the records as the season went on and she kept getting more and more saves,” Neumann coach Chris Vanaskie said, mentioning her goal was more about save percentage, as it improved from 68 to 73 percent. “Now that she has all the saves records, next year she can focus on getting better and doing whatever is needed to win games.”
WELCOME TO THE CLUB
This past week, Loyalsock junior Rhiallie Jessell became the latest member of the 50 goal club by scoring twice in a win over Southern Columbia last week. She added two more goals on Wednesday to be sitting at 53 career goals.
Jessell’s the 11th Loyalsock girls player to reach that milestone. Of those 11, Jessell sits tied at ninth with Jill Federoff with 53. Sarah Sereno is eighth with 54 goals, and Cassaundra Soars and Allie Pagana are tied at sixth with 57 goals each.
“Getting to 50 goals as a junior is quite an accomplishment, especially with the difficult schedule that we play. Goals don’t come easily, but Rhiallie has great teammates around her on the field and Rhiallie is a great teammate her self,” Loyalsock coach Ben Comfort said. “Rhiallie is much more than just a 50-goal scorer as she does so many different things very well on the field to help her team. She is such an exciting player to watch and a great person to be around. I am proud to be able to coach her.”
The Williamsport boys and girls soccer teams are just two of surely many that schedule tough competition toward the end of the regular season in an effort to prepare for districts.
The Williamsport girls for example scheduled Abington Heights, Midd-West, Selinsgrove and Loyalsock to close out the season. The boys also scheduled tough teams late, including Midd-West.
“That’s why they’re on the schedule. … Every team we’ve lost to this year we did not play last year, that’s including Midd-West,” Williamsport coach Lee Kaar said. “We have a bunch of losses, but that’s okay. We don’t need to be 17 (or) 18-0. We need to be battle tested and ready come playoff time.”
A GOOD CAUSE
Props to the Warrior Run girls soccer team and the Turbotville community for getting together and supporting a great cause for a rival school. Against Midd-West on Tuesday at Warrior Run, the Defenders encouraged fans to wear purple to show support for the Beiler family from Midd-West, as player Kelli Beiler’s mother, Lisa, is fighting pancreatic cancer.
During the game, a donation can was at the concession stand and a portion of the 50/50 drawing went to the Beilers. Roughly $191 was raised during the game to help the family.
It’s always great to see communities come together for things like that to support people from other nearby areas.
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
On Wednesday night, Montoursville defeated Mount Carmel on the Warriors’ Senior Night in a 13-2 victory. And for three seniors on the team, it meant recording their first varsity goals. But as the saying goes, it’s better late than never.
Seniors Isaac Miller, Eric Anderson and Ben King all scored their first varsity goals for the Warriors.
BESTING HIS OWN MARK
Wellsboro’s Josiah Hill just keeps improving on his already fantastic season. Hill last year set the school record for most goals in a single-season with 38. The Wellsboro senior bested his own mark, as he sits right now with 40 after Wednesday.
Gerardi covers high school soccer for The Sun-Gazette. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @JonGerardi.
JON GERARDI’S TOP 5 WEEKLY RANKINGS
1.) LEWISBURG (16-1): The Green Dragons had a nice 2-0 week, blanking two straight opponents in Shamokin (16-0) and Central Mountain (3-0). In those two games, Lewisburg’s been spreading the offense out as 17 players recorded either a goal or an assist. The Green Dragons have the No. 1 seed locked up for districts in Class AA and no doubt Lewisburg will have a target on its back.
2.) WELLSBORO (13-4): The Green Hornets went 2-0 this past week, first defeating Galeton, 3-1, as three players scored in the win. Wellsboro defeated Williamson five days later, 2-0, as Josiah Hill scored both goals in the shutout.
3.) JERSEY SHORE (11-4): The Bulldogs posted consecutive wins this past week, defeating Central Mountain, 3-1, and Shikellamy, 5-4. Jacob Butzler had a solid week, scoring twice in the win over the WIldcats and posting a hat trick in the win over the Braves.
4.) WARRIOR RUN (11-6): The Defenders went 1-1 this past week, first defeating Hughesville, 3-1, thanks to goals from Cody Rogers, Colin Walburn and Hunter Confair, before falling to Danville, 4-0. Warrior Run was held to just three shots against the Ironmen, but no doubt that’s a good test for the Defenders as the playoffs begin.
5.) WILLIAMSPORT (9-7): The Millionaires defeated Selinsgrove, 2-1, thanks to two goals from Tom Pombor, to start the week. Williamsport then fell to a very tough Midd-West squad, 2-1, as Tiarnan Ferry scored off a Pombor assist. But as coach Lee Kaar said after the game, scheduling tough teams like the Mustangs are precisely what the Millionaires need to close out the season.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK — Dominic Caputo, Montoursville: Caputo came up big in two games for the Warriors to help their playoff chances. Against South Williamsport, Caputo had a goal and assist in a 4-2 win. Against Hughesville, Caputo recorded a hat trick in a 5-2 victory.
1.) MONTOURSVILLE (16-0): The Warriors look really, really tough, not just offensively, but defensively too. Montoursville defeated Lewisburg, 1-0, in double overtime and blanked Jersey Shore, 4-0, as Kyleigh Balint led the way with two goals. On the other end of field, Marlene Bassett posted another shutout as defense only yielded three shots.
2.) LOYALSOCK (14-2-1): The Lancers posted a 2-0 week, defeating Southern Columbia, 5-3, and Bloomsburg, 2-0. Loyalsock is playing very well to close out the regular season and will be dangerous in the Class AA playoffs. Loyalsock’s Rhiallie Jessell had two goals against the Tigers and one against the Panthers. Myriah Saar scored twice against Southern Columbia too.
3.) WARRIOR RUN (11-3-2): It’s definitely not something you see often: consecutive losses for Warrior Run. First, the Defenders fell to Midd-West, 2-1, as Kierra Trivelpiece scored for the Defenders. Warrior Run then lost a day later to Lewisburg, 1-0.
4.) WILLIAMSPORT (11-5-1): Two tough losses for the Millionaires, but granted, it came to two tough teams in playoff bound Midd-West and Selinsgrove. The Mustangs blanked the Millionaires, 3-0, and Selinsgrove defeated Williamsport in an exciting 5-4 overtime game. Madison Bowman had a hat trick in the win over the Seals while Samantha Reeder had two assists.
5.) LEWISBURG (9-8): The Green Dragons did go 1-2 this past week, but those losses came to undefeated Montoursville and 10-win Hershey. But the Green Dragons did rebound with a huge 1-0 victory over Warrior Run in which Nicole Cho scored the goal eight minutes into the game. Lewisburg may have snuck into the playoffs with that win, but don’t count out the Green Dragons.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK — Aleaha Bigelow, Muncy: Bigelow posted four goals and an assist in two games this past week in wins over Neumann and Montgomery. Bigelow is a fast player who uses her speed effectively.