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Resurgent Archbishop Wood tops Cardinal O’Hara in PCL quarterfinals

WARMINSTER >> At the end of September, Archbishop Wood’s girls soccer team was at a crossroads.

After being played off the field in a four-goal loss to archrival Lansdale Catholic and facing the rest of the season playing without standout forward Lauren Ruth, the Vikings were under .500 and not sure what their future was. Fast-forward to Thursday afternoon and it’s a Vikings team with new life playing very good soccer.

A brace by senior Kasey McCormick in the opening 10 minutes sparked a dominant effort as No. 4 Wood topped No. 5 Cardinal O’Hara 3-0 in the quarterfinals of the Philadelphia Catholic League tournament.

“We adjusted, after losing Lauren we had to figure out a new formation,” McCormick, a senior co-captain, said. “It took a couple games, she’s such a big player for us and we didn’t have the confidence to take all these shots. But once we started playing more games, we realized we could do it and we didn’t need one player to make us who we are. Our confidence is back.”

Wood, the defending PCL champion, had to do some soul-searching midseason and while standing at the crossroads, opted to choose the path to a turnaround. Interestingly, O’Hara was the first team Wood played after the LC loss and that win over the Lions got the Vikings back on track.

McCormick has settled in as the team’s main striker but it’s really a group effort with Maggie Maley fitting in as the second forward and wings Maggie Cliggett and Paige Hoeger stepping up their scoring. The group has plenty of speed and McCormick said that’s what they planned to use on Thursday.

Hoeger set up the first goal with a good cross off the right side, where it found McCormick alone in the box with the senior hitting a one-time half-volley into the net in the fourth minute. Six minutes later, defender Caitlyn Cliggett fed the speedster forward a through ball, with McCormick touching around the keeper and slotting the ball home.

“It was a wake-up call for us and we all realized we had to step it up,” Cliggett said. “Defensively, we’ve been talking a lot more and I think it’s helping us work the ball forward. Kasey is by far the fastest player in the PCL in my opinion and having her up top is killer. We get the ball through and she’s winning it every time and getting a shot off.”

Wood’s defense has also played a pivotal part in its late-season surge. Cliggett and senior Erin Welsh, the team’s other co-captains, figured out how to play their sweeper-stopper system in the middle of the back line after both came from playing a flat back four in club.

On Thursday, the Vikings’ defense and midfield continually stopped O’Hara in its tracks. The Lions didn’t register a shot on goal and every time they got the ball up the field, a Wood defender seemed to break it up with a winning tackle. Leah Brzezicki and Mel Bennett have also stepped up their play as the outside defenders.

“Everyone’s been putting in the extra work and it’s showing on the field,” Cliggett said. “We started off the season slow, but we’re getting ourselves back together now, which is the best time to do it and I think we’re going into the semifinals on a good note.”

Wood got its third goal in the second half with about 25 minutes left. Hoeger hit the O’Hara crossbar with a shot, but Liz McCloud was in the right spot to knock it home on the second chance. The Vikings hit the crossbar four times on Thursday.

The PCL semifinals are set for Tues Oct. 25 at United German-Hungarians Soccer Club with start times of 5 and 7:30 p.m.

As the defending champions, the Vikings aren’t going to just give up their title and McCormick said that’s what motivated the team after losing to LC 5-1 back on Sept. 28.

“Cait Cliggett, Erin Welsh and myself as captains, we took over more at practice, we wanted to run more, find ways to get the girls more involved, tried different drills,” McCormick said. “It made us wake up as a team and want it more.”

ARCHBISHOP WOOD 3, CARDINAL O’HARA 0
ARCHBISHOP WOOD 2 1 – 3
CARDINAL O’HARA 0 0 – 0
Goals: AW – Kasey McCormick 2, Liz McCloud.

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