West Chester – No. 10 seed West Chester Henderson, opening the PIAA District One 4A girls’ soccer tournament at home Tuesday evening, hit a bump in the road when they found themselves trailing 1-0 at halftime to 23rd-seeded Garnet Valley.
But a formation change in the second half, and two goals from talented senior Sydney Zandi spaced less than six minutes apart, smoothed the way for the Warriors in a 2-1 first-round win at J. Oscar Dicks Stadium.
With the victory, Henderson (15-2-3) advances to the second round of Districts, where they will play No. 7 seed Central Bucks South Thursday.
Garnet Valley started Tuesday evening on the attack, and when sophomore forward Gia Dragoni scored with 31 minutes left in the first half, it put the visitors ahead 1-0. Henderson, meanwhile, was having trouble putting together a scoring attack.
“Our possessions let us down in the first half – we weren’t breaking enough lines,” said Henderson head coach Craig Scangarella. “At halftime, we decided to go from a 4-3-3 to a 3-5-2, so we could play longer, go higher up in attack.”
The strategy worked, and, for most of the second half, the ball resided in Garnet Valley territory. Five minutes into the second half, a Henderson shot on goal was knocked away by Garnet Valley senior goalie Ashley Bufano (who had 13 saves), but the ball came to Zandi, who connected for a score that tied the game at 1-1 with 34:11 left.
“Their goalie hit it out, the ball came to me, and I had to keep composed when I [connected],” said a smiling Zandi, who spent several weeks earlier this fall with the U.S. Under-17 Women’s National Team in Jordan. “When I [connected], I thought maybe I got the ball too high. It was a big relief to see the ball go in, because we weren’t behind anymore. We didn’t want the season to end tonight. Our goal is to make it to States.”
Less than six minutes later, a relieved Zandi connected once more, this time from the left side. Her shot deflected off a Garnet Valley defender and went into the net at 28:40 to give the Warriors a 2-1 lead that they held the rest of the way.
Scangarella said, “[Senior midfielder and captain] Kailee Coonan and [freshman midfielder] Catherine De Rosa did a great job to help us maintain possession in the second half. And [junior] center back Julia Wood did a fantastic job tonight too.”
The Henderson head coach also praised Warrior junior goalie Sara Lieffrig, who stopped everything that came her way in the second half. She made several key saves late in the game (including one off a penalty kick) and finished with 12 saves.
Scangarella said, “We needed to trust our style, and stay positive in the second half. Hats off to Garnet Valley – they’re a strong team defensively.”
Henderson hosted Garnet Valley earlier this season (Sept. 16), and played the Jaguars to a 2-2 tie.
Garnet Valley coach Joe Brangiel said, “Our team played with a lot of determination this season. Our girls were flying around tonight like you couldn’t believe. Some of them were cramping up because they were running their hearts out. [Senior center mid] Ava Wenger was all over the ball tonight, and [senior midfielders] Jenna Buttermore and Alex Zecca played solid defense tonight – Henderson has a lot of really good players who can score. And [goalie] Ashley Bufano did a really good job.”
“We had some tough challenges this season. We lost two of our best players to injury before the season, and we played a tough non-conference schedule – that was good prepartion for tonight’s game.”