East Xtra: Penn-Trafford claims Section 1-AAA soccer crown
October 18, 2012 8:00 AM
Penn-Trafford's Miranda Johnson, right, blocks Norwin's Kensey Johnson from a scoring chance.
By Nicholas Tolomeo Tri-State Sports & News Service
Section titles had been the standard around the Penn-Trafford girls soccer program for the past five years.
The Warriors had won four of the past five Section 1-AAA titles dating to 2007.
But with second-year coach Rick Nese having to replace nine starters from last year's team that split the section title with Norwin, missing out on the standard could be expected -- except the young Warriors team did not make excuses, they just made a statement.
Penn-Trafford (13-4, 11-1) wrapped up the Section 1-AAA title with a 1-0 win against Norwin last week.
The win completed a season sweep of the Knights, a program that Penn-Trafford finished second to in the section in 2005 and 2010.
"It was good to win the section championship but honestly a little bit surprising," Nese said. "We graduated nine starters from last season and we had a lot of shoes to fill. At the beginning of the season it was a little bit rough."
Aside from its inexperience, the beginning of the season was also rough because of the schedule. Five of its first six games were against Peters Township, Seneca Valley, Franklin Regional and Gateway.
A 3-2 loss to section newcomer Franklin Regional put the Warriors at 2-1 in the section and in an early hole.
Penn-Trafford had never lost more than one section game in its past four section championship campaigns. After the Franklin Regional loss, it would not lose another one.
Penn-Trafford outscored Latrobe, 9-4, and Norwin, 3-0, in its two meetings against both respective programs and it avenged the earlier loss with a 2-1 win at Franklin Regional.
"We played some good teams early on," Nese said. "It just took us a couple weeks to find out how we could be the best we could be."
Penn-Trafford didn't win the section title during a down year for Section 1-AAA -- it won it during one of the most difficult years to do so. The section featured two defending section champions this year, Norwin and Franklin Regional.
The Panthers won the Section 3-AAA title last season before WPIAL realignment moved them into Section 1-AAA. The conference also featured Hempfield, a playoff team from a year ago, and Latrobe, a team that boasts one of the top goalies in the area in Jane Piontkowski.
"We always talk section title but when we graduated nine starters, we were wondering how we were going to compete for it," Nese said. "We knew that Franklin Regional was going to be good and we knew about Norwin and Latrobe."
Penn-Trafford played a physical game against Norwin in its two meetings. The strategy paid off as the Warriors won 2-0 on the road and 1-0 at home.
"We tried to play a little more direct against them," Nese said. "We knew they were going to try to string a lot of passes together and we didn't want to them to. We didn't allow them to play their game."
Nese credits senior central midfielders Casey Aunkst and Alexa Williams with controlling the midfield in both meetings with Norwin.
Junior goalie Kayla DiPaolo came through with key saves all season long, maybe none more important than the saves she made against Norwin in the late going.
Senior forward Miranda Wallace scored the game-winning goal in the decisive second meeting with Norwin that earned the Warriors the section title.
"Miranda Wallace had a great individual effort," Nese said. "She outmuscled one of [Norwin's] defenders and beat their goalie right at the start of the second half."
Aunkst and DiPaolo were the only returning starters for Penn-Trafford and Aunkst was in a new position after playing central defender last year.
Williams, Wallace and sophomore Kristen Swope saw considerable time last season. Swope plays outside midfield and forward. Wallace and freshman forward Maggie Mastrogiacoma are the teams leading goal scorers.