FRANCONIA >> The Pennridge girls soccer team has a motto this season.
After a loss to Central Bucks South to open Suburban One League play, the Rams knew it was time to rise up and accept the challenge the Continental Conference poses to them. Thursday, their challenge was Souderton, already owners of big wins against South and CB East.
Two goals in a 51-second span in the second half was enough to get Pennridge by Souderton 2-0 at Big Red’s house on Thursday thanks to a controlling effort from the midfield and another stout defensive performance.
“We had plenty of space to look up, see where our space was, dribble some and then play it off to our outside backs or forwards’ feet,” senior midfielder Erin Stevenson said. “They had a lot more back so it gave us room in the midfield to attack that space.”
Stevenson was terrific all game as a holding midfielder, winning balls, starting forays forward and testing Souderton keeper Vivian Feliciani early. The UMBC recruit, usually a central defender, has been playing midfield with Rams senior Katie Fischer sidelined and has been a big part of the Rams’ wins over CB East and Souderton this week.
Helping her out on Thursday was right back Rachel Velez, who looked more like a winger for most of the second half. Once the halftime whistle sounded, Velez repeatedly had marauding run after marauding run up the right side, getting balls into the middle and creating chances.
Fittingly, it was her foot that broke open a scoreless deadlock with 29:52 left in regulation. A corner kick service by Dani Meenan bounced around the box and eventually found Velez, who buried it.
“It was a nice corner and I got my head on it first,” Velez said. “But someone flicked it out and I finished it on the rebound.”
That was the first bad break for Souderton. The second came 51 seconds later when a shot by Ashley Groeber from distance deflected off a leaping Souderton defender, altering its course away from Feliciani and into the back of the net.
“I think we could have worked a lot harder, worked on our touches,” Souderton senior defender Sara Cassel said. “The one goal was just unfortunate with the header and the other was a scramble, too many touches on it and it got it. I think we can work on it.”
Up until the corner kick, it had been a very even game with both teams generating some chances but mostly being stifled by the respective opposing back line. Both defensive lines are stacked with veterans and keepers Feliciani and Mary Kate Levush stepped up and made some crucial saves.
Levush’s biggest stop was with 15:19 left when she went down to the corner and palmed away a Meredith Moore shot.
“We’re really close together as defenders,” Velez said. “We like to communicate a lot, which keeps us tight and focused.”
GIRLS SOCCER 29:52 2nd half: Pennridge 1, Souderton 0
Rachel Velez finishes in a post-corner scrum pic.twitter.com/dhJOGVbgBA
— Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3) September 15, 2016
It wasn’t all Stevenson in the midfield, with Savanna Harrison, Groeber and Caroline Thomson all getting plenty of time and playing well with it.
For Stevenson, it’s taking her tenacious play as a defender and just moving it up the field a bit more. Thursday, she covered plenty of ground and had her foot in on plenty of Souderton attempted passes.
“It’s the help of the entire team,” Stevenson said. “They tell us when we have room. I’ve played some midfield before so I know when I see my space, I take it.”
“She’s a smart player,” Rams coach Audrey Anderson said. “We did move her to the back later when (Souderton) was playing with four players in attack, but she’s that player that can and will play anywhere.”
Souderton is trying to get its attack back in synch with junior Cara McCausland out. A major scoring threat for the Indians, McCausland watched Thursday’s game from the sideline, her right knee iced up. Still, Souderton was able to create some chances, but most of them came as shots from outside the box or in a place where Pennridge could cover them.
“We had a lot of touches on offense and just couldn’t seem to finish them,” Cassel said. “We had multiple crosses and couldn’t get a touch on them. We’re trying to figure out ways to get around it and score.”
Despite the setback, and a double-overtime loss to Elizabethtown on Saturday, the Indians still have a lot of confidence. Losses are going to happen in the Continental and Cassel felt like her side matched Pennridge in everything but goals.
“We’ve worked at it real hard, we’ve increased our level of play over the years,” Cassel said. “We’re continuing to work really hard to get better.”
Pennridge has a quick turnaround, taking on Cheltenham in a nonleague SOL crossover Friday afternoon. Stevenson wasn’t concerned about the team looking down on the game after two big league contests with the importance it could have for playoff points.
“We need to keep the intensity we had today,” Stevenson said. “We can’t let down.”
Plus, they’ll be right back to the ringer of the Continental very soon,
“(The conference) keeps us playing at a high level the entire season,” Velez said. “It gets us prepared for everything to come.”
Pennridge 2, Souderton 0
Pennridge 0 2 — 2
Souderton 0 0 — 0
Goals: P- Rachel Velez 51’, own goal 51’.
Shots: P- 8, S-5. Corner Kicks: P-5, S-2. Saves: P- Mary Kate Levush 5, S- Vivian Feliciani 6.
Top Photo: Pennridge’s Savanna Harrison and Souderton’s Bre DeRenzi battle for possession during their game on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)