EAST ROCKHILL >> The halftime break was either to make or break the Pennridge girls soccer team Saturday night.
Trailing by two goals to Souderton on a wet field with a thick mist hanging overhead, it was the kind of match that in the past few years, Pennridge would have ended up losing. But there’s different with this year’s team and Saturday, the Rams took a step to showing it.
Keyed by senior Erin Stevenson, the Rams rallied to level the score then battled Souderton to a 2-2 double overtime stalemate.
“This year, ‘Rise Up,’ is kind of our motto and this was a perfect opportunity to see if we could rise up from being down,” Pennridge coach Audrey Anderson said. “I think these girls showed tonight that they are that team, they have the personality and the talent to rise up and come back from being down 2-0.
“Most teams and most years, we wouldn’t have been able to come back.”
Saturday’s match was an example of what two high-level high school teams playing should look like. Both sides needed some kind of contribution from every player on the field and the outcome wasn’t a given until the final whistle of the second overtime was blown.
Much like the Rams answered a big question, the Indians showed their resolve as well, settling down after allowing the tying goal.
“This week, I want to play games against good teams like CB South and Pennridge who play good soccer and I want to play so that when everyone is watching, they say this is what high school soccer should look like,” Souderton coach Chris Felber said. “It’s fast, it’s intense, there’s combinations. All three of these teams are playing good soccer and both our games this weekend, we held our head up and I think anyone watching that is thoroughly entertained.”
This year’s crop of Rams is loaded with seniors, so there isn’t a need for one or two overwhelming voices. That was the case Saturday with Stevenson, Savanna Harrison, Kennedy Peace, Katie Fischer and others all providing some kind of leadership.
In the halftime circle though, it was UMBC-bound Stevenson who set the tone.
“There are so many players that want it so bad, whatever they’re going to have to do, they do it,” Anderson said. “Erin started it, Caroline Thompson said it, ‘game’s not over.’ We still had time, it was a lot of be positive, don’t yell at each other and that’s what they needed to hear. They needed to hear their captains and their leaders say that before going back in.”
Stevenson has been a huge piece to the puzzle for the Rams, playing mostly as a midfielder. Souderton marked her well for most of the match, but when Pennridge won a PK with 17:43 left, the senior calmly stepped up and buried it to spark the rally.
She would tie the game up with an exquisite header off Dani Meenan’s cross with 15:04 left, a class goal that even Felber could only compliment. Earlier in the week, Stevenson spoke about the team’s resolve this year.
“Keeping our positivity is always something that helps us win these games,” she said after topping North Penn. “We always have to keep working no matter who we’re playing. These games matter so much and we have to work every day.”
Up next for Pennridge is nemesis CB South on Wednesday at home in a 3:30 start. The Titans are the only team to have beaten the Rams this year.
No More Than Two
It’s not easy to do, but a handful of teams have scored a goal on Souderton in a game this season, a smaller number have managed to get two.
But no team has scored three times on Big Red this season. It’s both a testament and sign of just how consistent and strong the Indians’ back line and goalkeeping have been.
On Saturday, keeper Viv Feliciani was superb, making eight saves and none of them bigger than her leaping palm of a Katie Fischer shot in the last 30 seconds of the second overtime. The two she gave up, a PK and a practically un-savable header, there’s not much she could have done. Everything else, she was up for it.
Interestingly enough, Souderton hasn’t used the same defensive formation all season.
“We played three at the back for the first six or seven games and we’ve kept the ball well for the majority of our games,” Felber said. “We’re not turning the ball over and you lose most of your goals off turnovers so we’re keeping the ball and getting pressure on the ball in the other half. We’re trying to keep the ball away from our defenders as much as we can and we’ve done that well.”
Organization is so vital for a back line, much of it coming from the keeper, who doubles as a maestro on top of trying to smother everything shot their way. Senior outside back Sam Plinke said Feliciani is an excellent communicator and a big reason for the stout play of the back unit.
In the beginning, it was Plinke, senior Sara Cassel and junior Hannah Kramer anchoring the back with senior Emily Readinger stepping in as the fourth defender. Felber said it’s a lot to do with their effort and the four do an exceptional job covering for each other.
After the game was tied, Souderton really buckled down.
“I had to make sure to mark the outside players so she didn’t run down the field past me so they couldn’t get a cross off,” Plinke said. “It’s all about us staying tight with each other and keeping everything to the outside. We mark everything centrally and keep a very compact defense.”
With three seniors starting on the back line and another senior in goal, it’s an experience and tested unit. Cassel was a first-team All-SOL pick last year, the program’s first in some time, Felber said, and is adept at covering a lot of ground and making the right, smartest play.
A defense can have good parts, but if they don’t work well together, it’s not going to stop a lot of teams. Souderton has both good defenders and good defenders who work really well together.
“We know how each other plays and each other’s tendencies are,” Plinke said. “We use that and work off each other. Viv communicates what she wants and that helps us because she sees the players that we don’t see.”
Souderton was solid last year, but not quite there despite making the district playoffs. So far this season, Big Red is in the top half of the SOL Continental table and eyeing more than just an appearance in the postseason. Plinke said this year’s side is much better at connecting the ball and moving it quickly.
After falling to CB South on Friday, Souderton came into Saturday night’s match in the right state of mind.
“It really fired us up,” Plinke said. “We want to win. Yesterday, our touches weren’t the best but we were able to improve on that. Pennridge is a very good team and it’s a good result to tie them so I think we’ll use this to our advantage.”
Felber also credited his midfield players for their bulldog mentality and unwillingness to give the ball away. The third-year head coach said it’s a result of his team being older.
“We only graduated minimum seniors, we got older and we’re more physically capable,” Felber said. “The first time we lost to Pennridge, the kids were saying ‘we’re not scared of them,’ they weren’t the same big, fast, scary team we’d been playing because we’re able to match up with them now.”
The road doesn’t get easier with CB East up next, but Souderton is playing well and they’re making it a nightmare for opposing teams trying to score on them.
“We’re delighted with that, I want people to see that and appreciate that,” Felber said. “We’re very happy with the two performances. Both games, it’s who gets that first goal that’s so important. “
No Easing Fischer Back
Katie Fischer made her return to the soccer field on Friday when Pennridge topped Hatboro-Horsham.
Saturday, she was thrown right back into the fire for her second match back, playing a pivotal role in a fast game as her match fitness returns. Sidelined all season with an ankle injury, the senior midfielder played a large swath of the first half, all 40 minutes of the second half and the entire 10 minute second overtime on Saturday.
She was impactful too, winning the ball then, as the pivot, sending it out to Meenan in space for the eventual cross in on Stevenson’s equalizer.
“Katie’s one of those players that the team looks to when we’re in tough situations,” Anderson said. “I knew we were going to need her on the field tonight. I wasn’t sure if I was going to play her up top or at center mid. She’s pretty honest, she said she felt good and could do it. I don’t want to rush her back but at the same time I don’t want her to not play if she can play.”
The senior, who is committed to play at UNC-Charlotte, nearly won the match with her late strike that Feliciani was able to palm over the crossbar for the late dramatics.
While she was sidelined, Fischer was still able to do some workouts, running off to the side and doing other things to stay in shape so she could go when it was time. Still, there’s a difference between being in shape and being match fit.
“In order for her to get where she needs to be in the next two weeks, she needs to be playing,” Anderson said. “There’s no better way to get in shape for soccer than to be playing, especially games like this where you can’t take a minute off.”
Pennridge has a huge week coming up, hosting South and travelling to CB East on Friday. It’s the kind of week where every player will be counted on and having Fischer back only makes the Rams stronger going in.
“She’s a good leader and a great player,” Anderson said. “You want that player on the field.”
Pennridge 2, Souderton 2
Souderton 2 0 0 0 – 2
Pennridge 0 2 0 0 – 2
Goals: S- Meredith Moore 29’, Ali Trick (Aleia Kramer) 34’; P- Erin Stevenson (PK) 52’, Stevenson (Dani Meenan) 64’. Saves: S- Vivian Feliciani 8, P- Mary Kate Levush, Kaitlyn Moran 5.