CHELTENHAM >> In Upper Dublin’s season opening draw against Conestoga, senior midfielder Tina Haig had to spend a lot of time helping defend the Pioneers.
Haig performed extremely well, as did the whole team but the Cardinals don’t want Haig to just be a defensive-minded midfielder. As an upperclassman, a well-rounded player and a skillful finisher, Upper Dublin wants Haig involved in attack too.
Thursday at Cheltenham, she showed why. Haig netted a hat-trick and assisted another goal as Upper Dublin topped the host Panthers 6-1.
“It was really big for us to score some goals,” Haig said. “It was actually very important because we’re going to be playing Quakertown (on Friday), who is a really tough opponent and who won the league last year so we want to come out and show them it’s not just their league and we want to win. Getting this kind of confidence boost is big for us.”
Make no mistake, Upper Dublin looked at its draw with Conestoga as a massively positive result, but the Cardinals know they have to score goals to contend for the Suburban One League American Conference title and make a playoff run. To do that, the team’s unproven but talented front line had to see a payoff on the chances it generated.
Upper Dubin (1-0-1, 1-0-0 conference) lost its leading scorer from last season, Sizzy Lawton, to academy soccer, so the front line is being re-worked and therefore makes the impact of players like Haig all the more important.
Cheltenham (0-1-0, 0-1-0) on the other hand, is retooling across the board after graduating nine senior starters from last season. The Panthers played four freshmen extensive minutes, with midfielder Ella Brown netting the team’s lone score on a second half penalty kick.
“It was a game that showed us what we do well and also a game that showed Upper Dublin have some quality players and depth in their squad that will make them difficult to play against,” Panthers coach Mark Woodcock said. “They put together some really good offensive moves we couldn’t handle but when I look back, aside from the result, we did some pretty good things. I’ve got a team that’s a high-effort team, a smart team that knows how it wants to play and wants to compete.”
One of the few returners for Cheltenham is senior goalkeeper Eliana Weiler, a two-time all-SOL pick and one of the top keepers in the entire Suburban One League. Haig, who opened the scoring in the 11th minute with a well-hit ball that tucked inside the far post, knew scoring wasn’t a given on Thursday.
“When I’m front of the net, I’m thinking she’s big, she’s tall, so shoot it low and look for the corners,” Haig said. “We were able to defend really well against Conestoga, so we can play out of the back. If we can defend and play out of the back, then we can play it to the outside and that leads to shots.”
Emily Booth scored the Cards’ second goal with a bullet of a shot from the top of the box after right winger Lindsey Schreiber played her in with a pass. Haig set up the team’s third goal when held the ball in the box and found sophomore forward Molly Pappalardo for a turn and finish.
With Quakertown looming, the Cardinals used a lot of reserves throughout the game to keep legs fresh and were game to hold a 3-0 lead until the Panthers pulled one back. A collision in the box between UD keeper Devon Jones and Cheltenham’s Corinne Packel led to a PK with Brown converting.
Although Upper Dublin scored two quick goals in response, seeing a ball go in seemed to energize the Panthers and they played their best stretch of soccer following the goal.
“We had those 10 or 15 minutes where we really put some stuff together,” Woodcock said. “We lost so many seniors from last year that we have so few players with any significant varsity experience and for many of them, you have to learn to become a consistent, winning team. It’s not a thing that comes easily.”
Booth set up the first response with a great run down the right side, first taking a controlled touch around a defender, then whipping a cross over to a wide-open Haig well inside the box. Weiler, who made 12 saves in the match, had no chance to stop Haig’s strike that made it 4-1.
The senior had a header saved by Weiler a few minutes later, then finished her hat-trick after taking a through ball from freshman Karolina Bocul, outracing a defender and slotting it home.
“We really do want to get her forward on the field,” UD coach John Topper said. “In a game like today where we had a little more possession, we were able to do that.”
Senior Tori Hoffner capped the scoring for UD with a quality chip off the left flank late in the second half.
Haig knows Quakertown will present a huge challenge on Friday and while Upper Dublin didn’t win either meeting last season, the Cardinals’ performance the last two games has them going in with plenty of confidence.
“It shows we can hang with the toughest teams and we’re not just a small-league team,” Haig said. “We can play with the big guys.”
UPPER DUBLIN 6, CHELTENHAM 1
UPPER DUBLIN 3 3 – 6
CHELTENHAM 0 1 – 1
Goals: UD – Tina Haig (Molly Pappalardo), Emily Booth (Lindsey Schreiber), Molly Pappalardo (Tina Haig), Haig (Booth), Haig (Karolina Bocul), Tori Hoffner; C – Ella Brown (PK). Saves: UD – Devon Jones 1, C – Eliana Weiler 12.