Even after 12 section titles in her first 12 years at South Park, there was still an element of surprise for coach Shelly Thropp at the section title the Eagles clinched last week.
A dozen years of section crowns do not guarantee any success in the 13th season and with eight seniors, including six starters, graduating from a year ago and four new starters on defense, a 13th section title for Thropp and the 17th in a row for the program, was anything but a foregone conclusion this year.
"It is better than I expected," Thropp said. "After losing that senior class I thought we were going to struggle a little bit."
But the more the players change, the more things stay the same for Thropp and the Eagles.
South Park (13-3-2) clinched one of its most impressive section titles with a 11-0-1 record in Class AA Section 4. The Eagles swept the regular-season series with Belle Vernon (12-3-1, 8-2-1), a team with whom the Eagles shared the section title last season.
Their only "blemish" in section play was a 1-1 tie at Elizabeth Forward (10-3-4, 7-2-3) who finished third in the section. South Park had a goal disallowed against Elizabeth Forward after a South Park player was ruled to have encroached on the penalty area during a South Park penalty kick that would have made the score 2-1.
The Eagles responded like champions often do. They blasted Thomas Jefferson, East Allegheny and McGuffey by a combined score of 24-2.
"[The draw against Elizabeth Forward] was a huge wakeup call for them," Thropp said. "I felt bad for the teams we played the next couple of days. They were pretty fired up."
After the three blowout wins, South Park and Belle Vernon had their annual late-season showdown. The Eagles had already clinched at least a share of the section title but a win would make it an outright one.
After a scoreless first half, defender Amanda Luffey collected a corner kick and scored the lone goal of the game.
"[Winning the section title outright] is a huge difference for the girls," Thropp said. "Belle Vernon is a really well-coached team. We finally got the goal in the second half and Belle Vernon moved a lot of players forward and we were able to hang on. It was a big win for us. We were going to win the section [title] either way, but they wanted to win it outright."
The defense may be the most surprising aspect of this South Park run. The Eagles have four new starters on defense, including a converted forward and a converted midfielder.
The defensive starters are sophomores Nicole Evans and Luffey, junior Ashlyn Stowart and senior Emily Patterson. Evans and Patterson are first-time defenders this season. The unit has been playing in front of senior goalie Krista Mosi who has been one of the most valuable players on the team. Mosi has 10 shutouts this season.
"We lost all four players in the back," Thropp said. "Krista has done such a great job organizing those four new players, she is phenomenal. She is a really good goalie."
Mosi first saw varsity action last season subbing in for the injured Sierra Davis. Filling in for Davis was a tall enough task for Mosi, let alone behind an entirely new defense. Davis was a three-year starter who went 62-7-5 while posting 52 shutouts in her career. Davis was an all-state selection.
Offensively, the Eagles have been led by junior forward Jenny Vietmeier (19 goals, 6 assists), junior forward Kat Hartner (9 goals, 9 assists) and junior midfielder Monica Davison (7 goals, 8 assists). Junior Sarah Stanley is another standout, she starts as a central midfielder.
"My junior class is really strong, the group is carrying the team," Thropp said. "Monica has been really good for us, quarterbacking the team and organizing the middle. Sarah is a really smart kid, she can see the field really well. She sets up a lot of Jenny's opportunities."
South Park's Amanda Luffey, left, congratulates teammate Ashlyn Stowart after she scored a goal against Elizabeth Forward during a Section 4-AA match last month. Ashley Carey, center, rushes in to join the celebration.hssoccer
First Published October 16, 2013 8:00 PM