A-K Valley girls soccer teams hoping best is yet to come with WPIAL playoffs looming
Melisa O’Toole recently saw something she waited for all season: a complete, 80-minute performance from her Kiski Area girls soccer team.
A 4-0 victory over Gateway last week showcased the best the Cavaliers could offer offensively and defensively after a season of searching for both to show up at the same time, O’Toole said. That it came on the heels of a loss to Hampton two days before maybe wasn’t a coincidence.
“You don’t like to lose, but if you look at the positive side of it, it might have woke us up a little bit,” O’Toole said. “It’s true (when you’re winning), everyone’s like, oh, you’re doing awesome, you’re team’s playing well ... and really, our performances haven’t been great. We’re getting the wins, but we haven’t played an entire game yet. We know what our girls can do.”
Kiski Area secured its fourth straight trip to the WPIAL playoffs, but the Cavaliers (10-3, 9-2 Section 1-AAA) still are striving for a peak performance that can propel them toward a championship.
They’re not alone in that search. A handful of Alle-Kiski Valley teams -- both playoff qualifiers and those who still are looking to lock down a bid -- dealt with inconsistencies for a variety of reasons this season and are hoping the best is yet to come.
In a dozen years as Springdale’s girls soccer coach, Jerry Concannon never waited two weeks to start the season.
Until this fall. Rainy temperatures forced the postponement of two games. A high heat index caused another. And yet another game was canceled after St. Joseph didn’t field a team this fall. By the time the Dynamos did hit the field, the season was two weeks old, and they promptly dropped three of their first four games.
“It was just a very unique situation, very different,” Concannon said. “We did our best to maintain the intensity in training, but it’s also hard when you’re planning to play. It messes up your training schedule, also your practice schedule, because you’re planning to play ... the kids get emotionally up for a game, and then they get deflated, and we did that about four times.”
Springdale (6-5, 4-3 Section 1-A) eventually stabilized and looks poised to clinch its own postseason spot with another win.
“Once you play, the competitive piece of it starts to become a little more consistent and you start to feel what it’s like to play against an opponent,” Concannon said. “I think it’s the subtle things, like the speed of it, the intensity of it, the contact, the physical nature of it.”
The early postponements did cause another issue for Springdale: The Dynamos needed to cram their final four section games into this week, the last of the regular season.
Apollo-Ridge (4-5-1, 3-5-1), chasing Highlands for the final Section 2-AA playoff berth, faced a similar issue, with three more section games left to play this week and next.
Another challenge faced Apollo-Ridge this fall, and just like the weather, it was unavoidable.
The Vikings lost an experienced group of seniors -- the class that did a bulk of the work to bring soccer to the school in the first place -- after making back-to-back WPIAL playoff appearances in 2016 and 2017. That left a relatively inexperienced group behind.
“They just have to find their drive,” coach Matt Ross said. “They had a lot of drive from (those seniors), and I tell them, if you’re waiting for that, you’re going to be waiting for a long time.”
Ross praised the work of his midfield and defense for the work it did in limiting opponents -- the Vikings allowed two goals or fewer in seven of their 10 games through Monday -- and the team remains in striking distance of the postseason.
Freeport (8-5-1, 7-3 Section 2-AA) clinched a playoff berth Monday, but the Yellowjackets dealt with their own growing pains after graduating much of the roster that won back-to-back section titles and made two WPIAL semifinal appearances, a WPIAL championship game appearance and a PIAA quarterfinal appearance.
“We’d see them getting really nervous or antsy or excited as the games played out,” Freeport coach Brittni Grenninger said. “There were certain games it was 0-0 at halftime; you could really see the girls were getting antsy, just recklessly shooting on the net.
“I think each game thereafter, after the first section games were done, we sat down with them and told them that (goals) were going to come; just try not to force everything and just play soccer. They’re starting to realize now that it’s OK not to score on every single shot; just stay composed and don’t get frazzled. It’s an 80-minute game.”
Realignment rolled through the WPIAL last winter, causing upheavals for some teams. Kiski Area and Plum dropped to Class AAA from 4A. Springdale dropped to Class AA from A. Apollo-Ridge chose to play up in AA rather than remain in A.
“With last year’s section, we kind of went into every game having a pretty good idea if we were going to win or lose,” O’Toole said. “Whereas this is completely different. All of the teams are competitive and on any day can beat anybody. We could rely on someone like Hampton beating Mars for us. In Quad-A, there was a bigger difference of, you’re either good or you’re not. That’s something that I think is personally more exciting.”
That also gives O’Toole confidence that the Cavaliers can compete for a championship in a wide-open Class AAA after bowing out in the 4A quarterfinals last fall. Especially if the team reaches its peak of play that all coaches are looking for this time of year.
“I don’t want to say we’re peaking yet, but I want to say we’re starting to hit our stride right now,” Grenninger said. “We had some hiccups in the season, and I think how young and inexperienced we were, you could tell in the close games. I think we’re maturing as the season goes along.”