East Xtra: Youthful Yough makes impact in soccer
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Every so often during the regular season, Yough girls soccer coach Dann Appolonia would take a step back and realize just how young his team was.
It is easy to forget you start nine freshmen and sophomores when your team is winning 15 of 18 contests during the regular season, going 12-0 in section play to win the Section 1-AA title, earning the No. 7 seed in the WPIAL Class AA playoffs and then winning, 2-1, against No. 10 Elizabeth Forward (12-6) in the WPIAL first round.
Yough faced No. 2 Moon Area (18-1) in the WPIAL quarterfinals Wednesday night. The Yough Cougars were the youth Cougars this fall and they did something no Yough team, young or old, has ever done -- win a playoff game.
"Every once in a while you have to take a step back and realize they are freshmen and sophomores," Appolonia said. "Sometimes I have to remind myself they are young and for the most part, inexperienced"
Nobody played beyond their years more than freshman Mikayla Mance and sophomore Hannah Ponitz.
The two forwards combined to score 62 goals during the regular season. Mance led the entire WPIAL with 45 goals while Ponitz scored 17 despite missing nearly three weeks of the season with a concussion.
The postseason lights hardly bothered Mance and Ponitz. In the first round matchup against Elizabeth Forward Ponitz gave Yough a 1-0 lead and after the Warriors tied the game to force overtime, Mance connected for the game-winning goal.
"It was good to see both of them scoring in the playoffs," Appolonia said. "This is a young team and sometimes that inexperience shows through. Last Saturday [against Elizabeth Forward] it really clicked for them."
Mance and Ponitz have more in common than their youth, position and knack for scoring goals.
"They are similar players, they both have a lot of skill," Appolonia said. "They have their slight differences, they do complement each other but they have a similar style and they are both very solid players.
"Nothing our offense does surprises me anymore, they know how to put the ball in the net."
With Mance and Ponitz up top for the next two seasons plus the rest of the young starting lineup in the picture for the next two to three seasons, the future looks bright for Yough.
"Sometimes you sit back and think that in a couple years, these two [Mance and Ponitz] can be pretty special," Appolonia said.
This is Appolonia's first season coaching the varsity team at Yough but he is very familiar with his players. He previously coached the middle school team at Yough and with two daughters on the team, freshman Corynn and sophomore Leigh, Dann Appolonia has watched many of his current players play soccer since they were 6 years old.
"We have been playing together for a really long time," Ponitz said. "We all know how each other plays and what our coach expects."
After seeing the team play together in its first travel league in U-10 soccer, Appolonia had an inkling of what might be in store.
"This is something we have been working toward for years," Appolonia said. "Ever since seeing we were in U-10, I knew we had the potential to have a really strong team and right now that is starting to come to fruition.
"I've lived in the district for 17 years and the program has struggled over the years but it is nice now to get some recognition and have the school and community behind us."