South’s Warner returns from injury to lead team in goals

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette
South Williamsport’s Lela Warner, front, plays the ball during a game last week against Loyalsock. Warner leads the Mounties in goals a year after an injury took away her sophomore season.

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette South Williamsport’s Lela Warner, front, plays the ball during a game last week against Loyalsock. Warner leads the Mounties in goals a year after an injury took away her sophomore season.

Having played soccer year-round for majority of her life, Lela Warner was a little surprised last year when she developed a stress fracture in her left foot.

After setting the record for goals scored by a freshman at South Williamsport — breaking the mark of Christa Matlack, who coached Warner the last two years — Warner had high hopes for a follow-up sophomore campaign.

But that sophomore season was derailed almost as fast as it began. Last year, Warner had to sit on the bench and watch her teammates play. Anytime the Mounties were in a close, exciting game, Warner wished she had her cleats on and was able to try to score that game-winning goal.

It’s the mindset of any competitive athlete.

But Warner had to keep watching rather than playing, something she was frustrated and disappointed with.

“Being told you can’t play your sport is always disappointing,” Warner said. “It was really difficult for me because it felt so unnatural to be watching my team from the sidelines rather than playing alongside them.”

As soon as Warner was able, she started practicing again, playing with her club team and running to get into shape. She wanted to get out and redeem herself when late August rolled around.

“Before the season even started, I definitely felt like I had to redeem myself from missing my sophomore season,” Warner said. “I had a successful season as a freshman, disappeared as a sophomore and wanted to have another great season as a junior.”

Warner’s definitely putting up a very good junior season.

“Lela had a tough season last year, but she’s settled and comfortable,” South Williamsport coach Dan Solley said after a tie with Bloomsburg to start the season. “She’s ready for another good season, a follow-up to her freshman season.”

South Williamsport is averaging nearly three goals per game and Warner is the Mounties’ leading goal scorer again with a team-high 11 goals as of Tuesday.

But while some may be a bit surprised at that success, Warner definitely isn’t. She knows what she’s capable of when she’s healthy.

“I think that I’ve grown so much as a player with (my coaches), both in skill and IQ, that it honestly doesn’t shock me to be having a successful season after missing the previous one,” Warner said.

Having to adjust to a new coach and system isn’t always an easy transition, but Solley and his staff have transitioned well with the Mounties and South Williamsport is again on pace to get to the District 4 playoffs. That run comes after a letdown in 2016 in which the Mounties missed the postseason one year after making it to the district championship.

“As a team, we’ve always worked really well together and have produced a lot of great things offensively. Like I said before, our coaches have really done a great job teaching us how to run the offense and how to create opportunities,” Warner said. “Coming into the season, I assumed we’d be solid. However, we are scoring and playing better offensively as a team than we ever have, which doesn’t necessarily surprise me, but it does show how we are becoming more of a well-rounded team.”

NOT LETTING UP

In a month’s span, from Sept. 5 to Oct. 5, the Wellsboro boys team has put up numbers that are tough to process. The Green Hornets, in that span, outscored opponents, 89-0. And take into consideration Wellsboro’s starters come out in a majority of the games by halftime.

It’s an impressive run, but there’s no big secret as to why Wellsboro has been so successful overall. It boils down to hard work and coachability.

“The boys have been working hard for years to improve. They play futsal in the winter, some play club in the spring and everyone attends summer sessions,” Shaffer said. “We had 95 percent turnout for our optional summer sessions. It makes a difference. And then the boys listen and implement what the coaching staff asks of them.”

The Green Hornets have scored 105 goals through 13 games and have allowed only five as of Tuesday.

And Wellsboro isn’t afraid to shoot the ball, averaging nearly 30 shots a game.

“We have a great balance in the team and players who have bought into their roles. We talk about artists and soldiers, you can’t have a team of all one or the other,” Shaffer said. “We have soldiers in the back who stick to their responsibilities and sacrifice creativity for a structured defense, and then we have artists in the front who are given the freedom to be creative, maybe make mistakes, but maybe score a brilliant goal.

“As a team, we celebrate a 50-goal scorer the same way we are celebrating nine straight shutouts: we take extreme pride in both.”

900 AND COUNTING

There’s never been a girls soccer goalkeeper to record 900 career saves. Well, at least there wasn’t until Thursday afternoon.

In a 5-0 loss to Troy, North Penn-Mansfield’s Alaina McKee recorded 19 saves, and in the process recorded her 900th career save. The all-time District 4 girls saves leader entering this year was believed to be Line Mountain’s Heather Wetzel, who had 737 in her career from 2002-05 according to the Pennsylvania Soccer Coaches Association.

Lourdes’ Veronica Kalejta (2000-04) was second all-time with 592 before McKee and St. John Neumann’s Addy Matz moved ahead of her.

“It really means a lot to Alaina. She works really hard and sacrifices her body to stop the shots from going into her goal,” North Penn-Mansfield coach Maryann Wilcox said. “She also has great sportsmanship. You will often hear Alaina telling her opponent ‘that was a nice shot’ if the ball is out of her reach or she just can’t get a hand on the shot. Her goal is to reach 1,000 saves by the end of the year.”

The all-time district mark, boys or girls, is Line Mountain’s Mike Hinkley, who had 998 career saves during his four-year career from 2007-10 with the Eagles, according to the Pennsylvania Soccer Coaches Association.

PINK OUT

It’s become more and more common throughout District 4 to see Pink Out soccer games. And Tuesday, the Williamsport girls soccer team hosted their Pink Out Night in a game against Jersey Shore.

It’s something the players and coaches enjoy, as it helps not only raise awareness for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but also help raise money for various organizations.

According to Williamsport coach Scott McNeill, the Millionaires last year helped raise roughly $1,500 for the Lundy Breast Cancer Center.

“It’s great. I started it with boys over at South Side and just a nice thing to do,” McNeill said. “The girls get excited about it. These seniors are 4-0 on Breast Cancer Awareness Night. Hopefully they learn from it and see they can attach themselves to some sort of cause as they get into adulthood.”

“You have a lot of support in stands and you see that everyone’s coming together and everyone’s real supportive and motivating you,” Williamsport sophomore Aaryka Goodwell said after beating Jersey Shore, 4-1, on Tuesday.

DEFENSIVE STAND

In the past week, the Loyalsock boys not only rattled off three consecutive wins, but posted three shutouts in the process.

Loyalsock played solid defensively these past few games, allowing only eight combined shots on goal in the wins over Bloomsburg (4-0), South Williamsport (5-0) and a solid offensive Hughesville team (2-0). In addition, Loyalsock’s posted four shutouts in its past six games, with only a 3-1 loss to Mifflinburg and 2-1 loss to Midd-West breaking up those shutouts.

“I’m happy that we are playing pretty solid soccer at this point. We have three games remaining and I can guarantee that the Sock players will play with the same intensity and fight that they’ve presented over the past six games,” Loyalsock coach Pete Ruhl said.

In addition to the Lancers’ back line playing well in that span, Loyalsock goalie Connor Rude has played well in preserving those shutouts.

“Connor has played with a lot of confidence the entire second half of the season. He made a number of great saves over the past few weeks and has kept us in all of our games, especially our two close losses,” Ruhl said.

And that defensive play this second half gets back to Ruhl and the Loyalsock coaching staff making some formation changes and adjustments with the lineup to help their new formation.

Jon Gerardi covers high school soccer for The Sun-Gazette. Email comments to jgerardi@sungazette.com or follow him on Twitter @JonGerardi.

JON GERARDI’S SOCCER RANKINGS

BOYS SOCCER

1. Lewisburg (13-1)

Two offensive routs for Lewisburg, first blanking East Juniata, 7-0, before a convincing 11-1 rout over Shikellamy. The Green Dragons had 11 players score or had an assist in those two games as well as the team defensively only allowed two shots in those games, both from Shikellamy.

2. Wellsboro (12-0-1)

After a 14-0 rout over Sayre, Wellsboro had perhaps one of their toughest tests against one of the best teams in Class A in Millville. And the Green Hornets came up with a 2-1 win over the Quakers as Cameron Tennis scored the go-ahead goal off an assist by Gabe Leach, his 50th career assist.

3. Williamsport (11-3)

The Millionaires rattled off three wins this past week, beating Jersey Shore, Hazleton and Shamokin by a combined score of 20-1. The Millionaires defeated the Bulldogs in overtime thanks to a Caleb Hill goal.

4. Warrior Run (11-2)

The Defenders beat Mount Carmel, 11-1, on Wednesday and then blanked a good Montoursville team, 6-0, on Monday afternoon. The Defenders have just two losses this year and are clicking all around at the right time. In the win over the Red Tornadoes, the Defenders had three players with a hat trick.

5. Sullivan County (11-3)

Three games for the Griffins this week and two resulted in shutouts. The Griffins defeated Northeast Bradford (5-0), North Penn-Liberty (3-2) and Muncy (4-0), playing three games in a five-day span. Yasler Montero-Slaas had two goals in the win over Muncy.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Tommy Bhangdia, Lewisburg

Bhangdia played solid offensively this past week. He recorded his second hat trick of the year while having an assist in a 7-0 win over East Juniata. Against Shikellamy, he had two goals and a team-high three assists in the 11-1 victory. Bhangdia’s proving that much like his older brother Joey was, he’s a player you have to account for on the field.

GIRLS SOCCER

1. Loyalsock (10-3)

A rough week for the Lancers. Loyalsock lost consecutive games to South Williamsport in overtime and Midd-West. But combined, those opponents have nearly 20 wins and are far from easy opponents to beat. Loyalsock rebounded after those two tough losses to defeat Hughesville, 4-0, and get back to winning.

2. Montoursville (10-3)

The Warriors went 1-1 this past week, first defeating Milton 2-0 thanks to goals by Caroline King and Anna Schult before losing to Central Columbia on Tuesday, 2-1. The Blue Jays are a tough team and clinched a playoff spot with the win over Montoursville.

3. Williamsport (11-4)

The Millionaires had two nice wins this past week, first blanking Shamokin, 4-0, before a 4-1 win on Williamsport’s Pink Out Night over Jersey Shore on Tuesday. Aaryka Goodwell had two goals against the Indians and a goal and nice assist against Jersey Shore.

4. South Williamsport (7-4-2)

The Mounties had just one game this past week, but it was a huge win for the Mounties as they defeated Loyalsock in overtime, 1-0, thanks to a goal by Lexie Yerger. Hailey Neidig had the assist in the win.

5. Warrior Run (7-7-1)

Having to win games late to ensure a postseason berth isn’t something the Defenders have had to do lately. After a tough 8-0 loss to Southern Columbia, the Defenders had a scoreless draw with East Juniata before posting a 2-1 win over Lewisburg thanks to a go-ahead goal by Avery Bieber.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Alyssa Johnson, South Williamsport

Anytime you can get a win in goal over a tough Loyalsock team, that’s a good sign. When you also earn a shutout? That’s a bonus. Johnson came up huge in goal against Loyalsock, recording 15 saves to preserve the shutout as the Mounties beat the Lancers 1-0 in overtime.

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