For the first three seasons of her high school career at Pennridge, Erin Stevenson had been one of the toughest defenders in the SOL Continental.
With her final regular season fast approaching back in August, Stevenson wanted to be more involved on both sides of the ball. So, she asked her coaches if she could move up to the midfield and the senior co-captain’s wish was granted.
Stevenson certainly got involved, scoring 15 goals with at least that many assists and keeping her trademark toughness in front of the defense as Pennridge won an SOL title, advanced to the District I 4A championship game and got to the state quarterfinals.
For her efforts this season, Stevenson has been picked as the Lansdale Reporter Girls Soccer Player of the Year.
“Our goal we set before the season was to get to states,” Stevenson said. “For us seniors that have played together for so long, we really wanted to get to states. When we were younger, we went to (assistant coach) Stevi (Parker’s) state championship game and she came back for our senior year.”
Stevenson was one of 11 seniors on the Rams’ roster, most of them playing youth soccer together under Audrey Anderson, now the coach at Pennridge. It’s a close-knit group and a talented one, with five of the seniors having committed to play in college.
Prior to this year, they were also branded with a label they didn’t want after being knocked out of the district tournament in the first or second round as a highly-seeded team. For two years, they were asked over and over by classmates the next day why they had lost as a high seed and why they weren’t going to states.
It was a question that Stevenson didn’t answer again.
“It gets to you really quickly,” the senior confessed. “Once one person asked you, it seemed like all these other people started to ask you and it just made me so angry and upset. You almost feel like you’re not making your school proud because you’re said to be such a good team but you didn’t get far at all.”
The Rams have always been a strong defensive team and with senior Olivia Fernandez coming back off a knee injury, Stevenson knew that the back line would be stout again and saw a chance to move up the field. During a team distribution drill, she really seemed to click with her teammates
Stevenson asked Anderson to move up and the Rams gave it a try in a preseason scrimmage, which they ended up winning.
“Being able to play defense and offense at the same time, I just knew that I needed to help my team score more goals this year but also still help them defensively,” Stevenson said. “We tried it out in a scrimmage and it really seemed to work.”
It wasn’t a flawless transition as Stevenson realized she would have to up her fitness and energy in the midfield, given how much more running and ground to cover came with the role. An early season loss to CB South was an eye-opener not only for her, but the whole team and the Rams then went on an impressive unbeaten run where they did not lose again until the district final.
Stevenson scored the lone goal in a win over CB East on a penalty kick that started the unbeaten run and her play in the middle got stronger with each passing match. She played offensive positions for her club team, so it wasn’t totally new but the senior said the Rams’ other midfielders were a huge help getting into the flow of things.
“When it comes to soccer it’s not just about talent, it’s about chemistry and how well you know your other players,” Stevenson said. “You have to remember you’re not the only one on the field and there are 10 other girls who can do something you don’t. If you’re willing to make that one pass, it could change the whole game.”
A key component of the Rams’ success was how well the players all got along on the field. Stevenson said that came from what she termed team talks where the players met without coaches and anyone could raise points to address.
What’s most noticeable about Stevenson’s play is the toughness and tenacity she brings onto the pitch. She attacks the ball and when she has it, it’s very difficult for opponents to get it away from her feet.
“I’m just always hungry for the ball and I don’t like when people take the ball from me,” Stevenson said. “As a player, I’m just aggressive.”
Her favorite goal of the year, a brilliant header off an early cross from Dani Meenan against Souderton, is exactly Stevenson. It was a rainy night, the Rams had played a poor first half and were down 2-1, their goal a Stevenson PK, when she ran under the service and flicked it perfectly into the upper 90 to give Pennridge an eventual 2-2 tie.
The kicker is that she wasn’t supposed to be heading the ball at all that night. Back spasms had sent shooting pains all the way up to her neck all day, but the ball was there and she wasn’t about to let that be the reason her team lost.
After the heartbreaking loss to Cumberland Valley in states, the Rams didn’t get asked why they lost but instead got plenty of support and encouragement.
Stevenson and her fellow seniors understood they were setting an example not only for the team’s underclassmen, but also the numerous local youth players that would come to their games the way the seniors went to games when they were kids. Stevenson said she most hopes the returning players saw how hard the seniors worked this year toward their goals and realize nothing comes easy.
The same applies to her for the next stage of her career, playing at UMBC next fall. Pennridge’s 2016 seniors won’t be on the same team anymore, but it’ll be a team people talk about for quite some time.
“Even before freshman year, we knew there was going to be something special about us as a team, it just a little while for that team to actually come out,” Stevenson said. “This year, it was a different team in that we had a different mindset about what we wanted to do and where we wanted to get.”