UPPER DUBLIN >> It was Upper Dublin girls soccer’s senior night Tuesday, a night to mark the careers of six players who have seen the program reach the postseason in all four of their seasons.
Opposing the Cardinals was Hatboro-Horsham, a program that hasn’t tasted the stage of the postseason since before any of its 13 seniors were even in middle school. But the Hatters took the field with a chance to change that, sitting as the No. 25 team in the latest unofficial District 1 Class AAAA power rankings.
The top 24 teams move on to the next stage and a win over Upper Dublin, ranked No. 19, would certainly go a long way to getting the Hatters off the bubble.
Hatboro-Horsham got the start it wanted, but didn’t get the finish as Upper Dublin rallied then held on to take a 3-2 victory.
“It’s a lot harder to chase the game, and when you have to do it for an entire 40 minutes, it’s a difficult job to do,” Hatters coach Ike Onyeador said. “We tried, but we couldn’t do it.”
Senior Night starts have different effects on teams and in Upper Dublin’s case, the emotions got in the way a little bit as Hatboro-Horsham scored not even two and a half minutes into the game. Erica Paluszek played a 40-yard ball up the field to Sarah Miller, who touched it by the charging keeper and buried it.
Ali Hontz kept the pressure up with another shot about seven minutes later though slowly but surely, Upper Dublin was getting its footing and finding its way into the match. Some of it was players who normally start entering off the bench but a big reason was the play of the central midfielders.
Senior Lexi Schneider, sophomore Tina Haig, sophomore Priya Kaneria and sophomore Lexi Moss all played a role in that, keeping possession and finding space and feet instead of getting sucked into the uptempo game the Hatters were looking to play.
“It was really about settling down,” Schneider said. “We were a little antsy because it was Senior Night and everyone was excited. Once we got into our groove, we were able to bring things together, pass it out wide and get our crosses in.”
The Hatters’ defense broke down at the wrong time with a hair over 18 minutes left in the first half. Paige Lawton was able turn with the ball and fed younger sister Sizzy and the sophomore did the rest, touching the ball by Hatters keeper Miranda Royds and tying the game.
Royds, the senior stalwart, was solid, making eight big saves for her team, including a diving effort to parry away a deflected free kick from Paige Lawton and palming away an angled shot from Tori Hoffner in the second half.
With 7:17 left in the first half, Haig staked her team to the lead with a gorgeous goal, a volley in space that would have gone in on any keeper. That goal, Onyeador could deal with. It was the next one, about two minutes later, which was tough to take.
“The first goal was a mental mistake and the most annoying part about that is we had said this is what they’re looking for and this how we deal with it and we didn’t do it,” Onyeador said. “The second goal was legit, they had the ball, played out wide. Our back stepped up, tried to get there and couldn’t get there in time, which happens, and (Haig) hits a phenomenal shot. That goal’s well deserved but the third one, we have two defenders on the girl who can’t make a determined tackle to come in and clear the ball. So you have a girl, with her head down, just push the ball through two players and scored.”
Sizzy Lawton was the player in question, staying with it despite two players trying to clear the ball and breaking through to beat Royds one-v-one for a 3-1 lead. The Hatters got to halftime without further damage, but would need a big effort after the break to get the result they needed.
Midway through the second half, they got a spark. A ball out of the back found Hontz in stride and the forward carried the ball almost half the length of the field, pulling a move in the box to shake a defender then ripped one past the keeper to make it 3-2.
A couple corner kicks followed, then Emma Roesing rang the crossbar on a rip from a good distance, with Cards keeper Devon Jones making a good play to prevent any rebounds. The Hatters had another golden chance with 5:22 left when Hontz again made a run into the box, but her shot struck the side netting.
“The only way to get over that is the players have to take account themselves and say I’m going to make it my mindset to get the job done,” Onyeador said. “When you watch the soccer, even our first goal, Paluszek opens up, takes a touch and drives a 40-yard ball. Sarah Miller cuts in, dribbles the keeper with composure, those are soccer plays. The kids can make soccer plays but when you don’t plug in mentally, you lose on simple mistakes.”
Upper Dublin has two games left in the regular season, a Thursday trip to Upper Moreland and a Friday home game with Central Bucks East. While Schneider and her fellow seniors have been to the postseason three straight years and seem on course for a fourth, they have yet to win a district game.
“It’s been a really amazing experience, coming together as a team,” Schneider said. “Doing as well as we are now, after an initial stumble, being able to bring it back in the end just means a lot. Right after our rough patch, we had a talk as a team for like an hour in our coach’s classroom and said everything on our minds about what wasn’t going well and what we could do to get back where we wanted to be.”
The Hatters’ hopes took a big hit, but aren’t totally dashed. If they can defeat Cheltenham on Thursday, and get a lot of help, there’s a window where they slide in to the postseason. For a program looking to build some consistency in a new conference, it would be a pivotal step.
“The conflict becomes, are we better because we have more wins or do we look better because we’re beating smaller schools. You have to beat schools like Upper Dublin, Wissahickon, schools like Quakertown to prove you’re a good team and not just a team beating smaller schools,” Onyeador said. “Right now, we’re on that edge. We’re competing but we’re not getting the wins and in the end, it’s the results that matter.
“This game was the chance to put destiny in our own hands in terms of playoffs. Now, we have to hope some things happen with teams above us.”
HATBORO-HORSHAM 1 1 – 2
UPPER DUBLIN 3 0 – 3
Goals: HH – Sarah Miller (Erica Paulszek) 2’, Ali Hontz 59’; UD – Sizzy Lawton (Paige Lawton) 21’, Tina Haig 34’, Sizzy Lawton 36’. Shots: HH – 7, UD – 12. Corners: HH – 5, UD – 7. Saves: HH – Miranda Royds 8, UD – Devon Jones 4.