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Williamsport’s Lewis surprised by tribute to grandfather

Walk into the Balls Mills Soccer Club just past the and you’ll notice a bench next to the fence surrounding the playing field.

It’s far from flashy and, to most people, it’s just a bench they may not really pay attention to. But everytime Williamsport senior Talia Lewis walks into the complex, be it for practice or a game or just as a fan, she’ll see it and smile. For Lewis, that bench means a lot to her and her family.

Lewis’ grandfather, Mark Young, passed away recently after a battle with cancer. Young was a staple at Williamsport games. Attending just about every Millionaires game, he would be seated in the picnic tables near the bleachers.

As the Millionaires lined up for the pre-game introductions Saturday before a match against Crestwood, Williamsport goalie Lila Vogelsong ran up to the pressbox and read from a piece of paper. She mentioned Young’s name and that’s when Lewis realized what was happening with the dedication of the bench.

Once Vogelsong started to read about Young, Lewis couldn’t help by get emotional. The senior started crying into her jersey as Vogelsong mentioned the bench and the inscription on the plaque: “Once from the field, now from above … always watch us with love. In Memory of Mark Young.”

It was am emotional tribute for Lewis and her family and it came as a complete surprise.

“That means a lot to me. It was a surprise. My pappy passed away from cancer, so it made me so happy just to have that dedicated here and playing for past four years, I know he’s up there supporting me,” Lewis said. “I was very shocked. I was very happy. I was very emotional, obviously. I broke down in tears. It was great.”

“It’s a really emotional subject because he took us to Penn State games when we were little as a team. He’s just always there. He’s just a really good supporter and I miss him being here,” Vogelsong said.

For Williamsport coach Scott McNeill, it was something they wanted to do given how often Lewis’s grandfather was at games. He was always there for the team and they became a family.

“He made all the games and would talk with me. It’s one of those things that had to happen,” McNeill said. “We’re family. Lee (Kaar) and I work in the concession stand during playoffs after games. We’re family. Everybody pulls together so they (the girls) can achieve some success and have some fun.”

Lewis will always have a smile on her face when she walks into the complex, not just the rest of this season, but for years to come.

TAKING IT HALF BY HALF

Consider the season for Muncy a 36-part series. Each half is a new page being turned in the story of the 2019 campaign.

That’s how coach Jason Gresh is approaching the year. He knows the team isn’t instantly going to be great after a day of practice or a couple game. It’s going to take the course of the season. More specifically, Gresh wants to see that improvement for the Indians each half.

So over the course of an 18-game regular season, that gives Gresh 36 chances to see his team slowly improve game by game.

“This is still a learning process. We’ve been lucky every half to get better. So first half against Benton to second half; to Millville first half to the second half against Millville; to the first half today and we got even better in the second half,” Gresh said after a 3-1 win against Sullivan County on Wednesday. “We’re continually getting better.”

It’s the little things Muncy does on the field which Gresh recognizes. Be it a player making a great pass across the midfield to get a player in position to score, or players making defensive rotations. That’s what the Indians need to do to improve, and it’s apparent.

“We’re continually getting better and they’re starting to understand what the rotations look like on defense and the effort that it takes to win. Winning’s not easy and I thought (Wednesday) we did a nice job,” Gresh said. “Any one time we have five freshmen playing and doing a nice job, so that’s a huge thing not only for this year, but for the future. They’re only going to continue to get better.”

The Indians won six games last year and Gresh wants the team to erase that season and improve this year to get back to the district playoffs. And improving half-by-half is something that can help build confidence and team chemistry for Muncy every game they step on the field.

“That’s the thing. They’re getting better half-to-half because they’re starting to understand ‘OK, this is what we want’ or ‘this is how I have to rotate’ or ‘remember when we talked about this, remember when we did this in practice?'” Gresh said. “It kind of builds and all of a sudden it becomes muscle memory. And when it does, they’re going to be a solid team for sure.”

After an 0-2 start to the year, Muncy has won consecutive games by beating Sullivan County (3-1) and CMVT (6-0). In those two games, Lauren Anderson has scored four goals and Aleaha Bigelow has scored three.

NOT A LOT OF DEPTH

Late in Wednesday’s game against Muncy, the clock was stopped as a Sullivan County player was lying on the ground next to the goal. It’s a sight you never want to see in a high school game. But when you don’t have a lot of depth to begin with, you definitely don’t want to see injuries happen.

The girl who was injured came out of the game for a moment before re-entering, but it showed the problem Sullivan County has this year.

When the Griffins’ starting 11 is on the field, there are only four girls sitting on the bench. That’s all Pete Swinick has to work with this year.

It’s going to be tough, and Swinick knows that. Sullivan County had a few players go out for cross country instead of soccer, a handful of last year’s players graduate and a player transfer. In the end, it’s a challenge, but nothing new for what a lot of smaller schools experience yearly.

“You’re relying on that bench talent and it is what it is. This year’s team is young, inexperienced in defense and midfield. We have experience on the front line,” Swinick said. “We seem to be a bit more anxious than we need to be and that results in the quality of product on the offensive side suffering because we aren’t waiting that little extra time to get a better setup. I don’t want to say it’s desperate, but it looks that way.”

Jon Gerardi’s Top 5 Girls Soccer Rankings

1. Montoursville (4-0-2)

Monday was easily the game of the week between area schools. The Warriors played Williamsport in a game between two of the area’s top defenses — and top offenses — which resulted in a 1-1 double overtime draw. Bella Masias scored the lone goal for the Warriors on a penalty kick before Williamsport tied it up. The Warriors are playing excellent from a defensive standpoint and are currently an honorable mention selection on the Pennsylvania Soccer Coaches’ Association Girls Small School rankings for Class A and AA.

2. Williamsport (5-0-2)

Williamsport is perhaps just as good as Montoursville defensively. The Millionaires wanted to contain Montoursville sophomore Lily Saul during their game and did just that, allowing Saul — a speedy forward — to get only one breakaway attempt. The Millionaires defeated Crestwood, 4-1, Saturday before Monday’s 1-1 double overtime draw to the Warriors. Give Williamsport credit, just 79 seconds after Montoursville went ahead 1-0 on a penalty kick, Kailee Helmrich scored the game-tying goal.

3. Warrior Run (5-1-1)

The Defenders lost Wednesday to Central Columbia, 4-0, a team that’s ranked sixth in the Pennsylvania Soccer Coaches’ Association Girls Small School rankings. But since then, Warrior Run rattled off consecutive wins against Selinsgrove (1-0) and Danville (10-1). Paige Bowman and Mel Brown both recorded hat tricks against the Ironmen.

4. Lewisburg (4-4)

The Green Dragons have had a bit of a back-and-forth season to start this year. A win, followed by a loss. But Lewisburg is playing well. The Green Dragons, this past week, lost to East Juniata, 3-1, before beating Jersey Shore, 4-1, Monday. Give credit to Lewisburg for losing by only two goals to East Juniata as the Tigers are currently ranked fourth in the Pennsylvania Soccer Coaches’ Association Girls Small School rankings and have yet to lose.

5. Hughesville (3-3)

Most teams who find themselves trailing 4-0 in a game may be deflated or put their heads down. But the Spartans aren’t most teams. Facing a four-goal deficit, the Spartans just continued to battle against South Williamsport and nearly overcame that deficit, scoring four goals to tie the game before South Williamsport scored twice late to secure the win. That showed the determination and heart Hughesville’s players have to keep fighting. That type of mentality will be beneficial as the year goes on.

Player of the Week

Lila Vogelsong, Williamsport

Vogelsong played incredible in goal in consecutive games for Williamsport. The Millionaires defeated Crestwood on Saturday, 4-1, and Vogelsong repeatedly made spectacular saves, including a few near the upper 90 to prevent Crestwood from scoring until late in the game. Against Montoursville on Monday, Vogelsong held her own against a solid Warriors team which fired 10 shots. The senior goalie had 26 saves in three games this past week as Williamsport went 1-0-2.

Jon Gerardi covers girls soccer for the Sun-Gazette. He can be reached by email at jgerardi@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JonGerardi.

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