ROYERSFORD >> Kayla Mesaros remembers the end of last season.
Three straight shutout defeats didn’t sit well with a striker used to scoring 20-plus goals.
It didn’t take long for Mesaros and her Pope John Paul II teammates to get on the scoreboard Tuesday in a District 1-AAA opening round girls soccer game against Sun Valley.
The Golden Panthers kept lighting it up until the final whistle on the way to a 5-0 win over the Vanguards with Mesaros netting a hat trick and adding an assist.
“Last year we went the last three games without a goal, so to come back from losing in the Final Four to win and score five great goals is huge for us,” Mesaros said.
No. 6 Pope John Paul II advances to face No. 3 Penncrest, which had a bye, on Thursday. Sun Valley (10-7-1) capped its season with a winning record for the first time in coach Chris Lambert’s tenure.
Liz Kropp set up Mesaros’ first three goals before Mesaros assisted defender Julia Owens’ strike from range on a short corner while freshman midfielder Mia Sheldon put on the final touches in the final minute.
“I thought that we really moved the ball well at the back which makes us really strong,” Owens said. “A lot of our outside backs got up the field well today which made the center backs more able to get up the field and get involved.”
Sun Valley, the No. 11 seed, heads weren’t hanging at game’s end – it was the first time it reached postseason play in a decade.
“This is our first time in the playoffs in I believe 10 years,” fifth-year coach Lambert said. “My first year here we were 1-18. And then we have three wins, then five wins, seven and now 10. We’re going in the right direction. The girls are getting better and they all play for and with each other.”
“I can’t be more proud of them to have made postseason play. We hope to be in this position again this year.”
It was a comprehensive display from the Golden Panthers with Kropp and Mesaros combining well while the defense of Owens, fellow center back Monica Rapchinski, outside backs Madison McNamara and Maddie D’Elia and holding midfielder Kendal Piazza possessed the ball very well while stifling the Sun Valley attack, led by Samantha Bowen.
The Vanguards had a bright start but it was wiped away with Kropp’s superb, bending ball down the left side for Mesaros to run on to. She poked it past Sun Valley keeper Amy Parker for the lead in the 10th minute.
“It’s huge because they were all hype and wanting to beat us so to get a goal and knock them down made things so much easier,” Mesaros said.
“It’s come on late,” Mesaros said of the chemistry with Kropp. “She’s had more assists on my goals and she’s getting more forward which helps a lot with being one person up top. It’s been awesome.”
The duo combined twice more in similar fashion down the left side, the third five minutes into the second half as PJP was well on its way by that point.
“We knew they had a potent offense and knew 21 (Mesaros) was going to be a problem,” Lambert said. “She held up to that and wound up being a game-changer for them. She was a difference maker.”
More to come
After falling to Spring-Ford, 4-1, in the semifinals and exiting in the first round of last year’s 1-AA playoffs, Owens and teammates are hoping to make more noise in 2016.
“People always think that we’re the team that’s one-and-done, but we want to make a good run at districts,” the junior said. “We want to prove to people that we can make it far. Most of the teams think, ‘Oh, it’s Pope John Paul, no big deal.’ But we play hard.”
No one wants a first-round exit, but the Vanguards had already reached their goals.
“Looking at the season, we were hoping for a winning record and we wound up 10-7-1, so we went a little above where I thought we might be, so we’re very happy. And it was our goal to make it into district playoffs, so for reaching realistic goals we’re very happy,” Lambert said.
Sun Valley’s seniors included captains Mckenzie McGinnis, Emily Simpson and Madison Skwirut as well as Megan Bowen, Taylor Colgan, Nicole Destefano, Ashley Hoy, Clair Howley and Jordan Johnson.
Notes >> PJP keeper Colleen Morton needed just one save for the shutout. Sun Valley keeper Parker made five. … SV defensive anchor Devon Linn exited the game with an ankle injury.