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Pope John Paul II, Owen J. Roberts face off for PAC title

At the final buzzer of Thursday night’s Pioneer Athletic Conference girls soccer final, one team is going to be feeling a way it isn’t accustomed.

There’s no other way around it for PAC Liberty Division champion Owen J. Roberts and Frontier Division winner Pope John Paul II, both of whom have lost just one game each.

PAC Frontier Division champion Pope John Paul II and PAC Liberty winner Owen J. Roberts face off for the title at 7 p.m. at OJR following the boys’ final between Spring-Ford and Phoenixville.

Here’s a breakdown of the championship matchup:

Boyertown’s Kaleigh Gallagher (9) shoots as she’s being closed down by Owen J. Roberts’ Kylie Cahill during their PAC semifinal. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

Records >> No. 1 seed Owen J. Roberts: 9-1 PAC Liberty, 12-1 PAC, 17-1 overall, ranked No. 3 in the District 1-4A power rankings

No. 2 seed Pope John Paul II: 10-0 PAC Frontier, 11-1-1 PAC, 14-1-1 overall, ranked No. 4 in the District 1-3A power rankings

How they got here >> In the semifinals on Oct. 17, Owen J. Roberts defeated Boyertown, 3-2, with senior forward Mahogany Willis scoring twice and the Wildcats’ stopping the Bears’ rally. Pope John Paul II defeated Spring-Ford, 1-0, getting their long-sought first win over the reigning PAC champions on senior Liz Kropp’s long-range blast in the second half.

Head-to-head >> On Sept. 22, OJR topped PJP 3-2 – the Golden Panthers’ lone defeat. With all five goals coming in the second half, Willis struck for a second-half hat trick (assists by Julia Dalton and Caroline Thompson). PJP’s goals came from Kayla Mesaros (PK) and Julia Owens.

Playoff history >> The Wildcats ended their uncharacteristic three-year PAC playoff drought last year and reached the final, losing to Spring-Ford 2-0. OJR is 10-time PAC champion (1999-2007, 2010), the final three in the Final Four era. … The Golden Panthers are in their fourth-straight trip to the Final Four. They reached the final in 2014, a 3-0 defeat to Spring-Ford.

Boyertown’s Bria Smith and Owen J. Roberts’ Kylee MacLeod battle for the ball during the first half. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

On Owen J. Roberts >> Coach Joe Margusity’s Wildcats are winners of 12 straight and are churning out results in any way necessary. In that run, they were pushed by PJP, Boyertown twice, their regular season finale against Spring-Ford and each time came away victorious. Senior forward Willis and her 30 goals are the primary threat for the Wildcats, while freshman forward Sarah Kopec (12 goals, 5 assists) has been crucially complementary. Senior Caroline Thompson (16 assists) is the playmaker in the midfield, along with Julia Dalton and holding midfielder Kylee MacLeod. Defensively, All-State center back Kylie Cahill takes charge, surrounded by senior Kali Pupo, freshman Emily Sands and freshman goalkeeper Samantha Hughes. Veronica Roach, Kenzie Milne, Bailey Hunt and Mia Baumgarten rotate in as well.

Pope John Paul II’s Liz Kropp, facing, is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal in the second half against Spring-Ford during the PAC semifinals Tuesday. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

On Pope John Paul II >> Coach Stew Sherk’s Golden Panthers carry a 7-game winning streak into the PAC final and have proven to be a high-scoring threat all season. That’s mainly a result of senior forward Kayla Mesaros, who leads the PAC in points with 26 points and 15 assists, who is a versatile striker that’s been doing it for years. The supply comes from winger Kropp (6 goals, 5 assists), Tuesday’s game-winner, and senior midfielder Avery Cotter (6 goals, 5 assists). Carson Tracy, Casey Genovese, Emily Hughes and Audrey Moroz also contribute on the attack while defensively, senior center backs Julia Owens and Monica Rapchinski anchor things along with outside backs Madison McNamara and Lainey Owens. Sophomore goalkeeper Stacy Kormos scored the shutout in the semifinal.

Matchup >> It’s really striking how similar the Wildcats and Golden Panthers are this season. Experienced, senior-filled, standout senior striker carrying the scoring load (Willis and Mesaros), playmaking senior midfielder (Thompson and Cotter), highly-rated defender (Cahill and Owens) with quality players filling the gaps. Even their one-loss records are the same. Similar to the way PJP played Spring-Ford in the semifinal, it wouldn’t be surprising to see both sides cancel each other out. Willis does pose a unique threat with her pace any time she can get behind the defense. Mesaros is more of a ball-at-her-feet forward looking to carry through the defense. Regardless, both teams’ know the first thing they need to stop so there are few secrets. There doesn’t expect to be much separation. It’s all about making the most of whatever scoring chance arises.

Prediction >> With such similarities, it’s the type of game you’d pick a draw, which can’t happen in the PAC title game. While the Wildcats are determined to return to the PAC final and win it after last year’s defeat, the Golden Panthers celebrated like it was their Super Bowl after beating archrival Spring-Ford. An emotional letdown is a dangerous thing, especially against a side like Owen J. … Owen J. Roberts 2, Pope John Paul II 1.

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