SHILLINGTON >> Every year, Springfield players write down what their goals are for the upcoming season.
Win the Central League. Win the District 1 tournament. Win it all.
Capturing a PIAA championship has eluded this perennial state powerhouse. The Cougars are vying for their third trip to a state final, and their first victory.
“We all have good chemistry. Our offense is strong and our defense is strong,” senior Maggie O’Connell said. “Everyone has the same mindset, that we all want that state championship.”
Springfield sure played the part of a worthy contender Saturday afternoon at Governor Mifflin High School. Led by Dana Carlson’s hat trick, Bailey O’Brien’s two goals and Bridget Whitaker’s two goals and an assist, the Cougars withstood a tough challenge from District 7 runner-up Manheim Township, claiming a 9-7 victory.
Springfield, District 1’s runner-up, moves on to the PIAA Class 3A semifinal round Tuesday to face the winner of District 1 sixth-place finisher Downingtown East and District 7 runner-up Fox Chapel.
The Cougars hit their stride in the second half when they snapped a 3-3 tie with a pair of quick tallies by O’Connell and Carlson.
“It was a little hectic in the first half, but once we got to halftime our coaches calmed us down and told us to keep working, to keep playing our best,” O’Connell said. “After halftime, the first couple minutes is the most important part of the game. We came out strong and got two goals off the bat.”
While the Cougars probably didn’t need an extra kick coming out of the break, there was a sense that they had to tighten some loose ends, both on defense and attack.
“We had to focus more,” Carlson said. “We had to make sure to take care of the ball, wait for the second cutter and don’t just shoot whenever you can. We had to wait for the right time.”
Springfield’s two-goal advantage dissipated quickly when Maris Large and Shannon Elias scored back to back to even the score. But the Cougars were never deterred. O’Brien and Whitaker each tallied off a free position to put the Cougars ahead by two. They wouldn’t relinquish their lead this time.
“We found that passing it inside would work (in the second half), which is something we practiced on a lot,” said Whitaker, who excelled on draw controls as well. “It was pretty much just the general stuff that was working for us. We weren’t really trying to switch anything up.”
The Cougars knew little about Manheim, but were aware that goalie Haley McCullough liked to move around and make her presence felt.
“The only thing we knew was that the goalie was active. That’s it,” Whitaker said. “She was good. We ran through all of our plays, hoping it would work.”
Olivia Little chipped in with a goal and two helpers for the Cougars, while goalie Julianne Clemens (four saves) was her usual strong self manning the pipes.
Going forward, there isn’t much for Springfield to change. The Cougars believe the only thing that can prevent them from checking off that last goal is themselves.
“Everyone knows in the beginning, whether you’re a freshman or a senior, that you need a goal and work toward it. And we all share it,” Whitaker said. “Us seniors, especially, don’t want it to end.”