WEST CHESTER >> On a picture-perfect evening, the West Chester Henderson girls soccer team decided it was a fine night to celebrate a birthday and a division title.
The Warriors scored two early first-half goals and staved off Downingtown East, 3-1, at Schramms Field on Wednesday. The Warriors finish the Ches-Mont League National Division portion of the regular season with a 10-3 record for 30 points to edge the Cougars who finish at 9-2-2 for 29 points.
In 2016, Henderson went unbeaten to capture the National crown. Following a spate of graduations and a coaching change, the Warriors weathered all of that upheaval to repeat as champions.
“With the change of the coach and some of our best players going off to college, it was great to see everyone come together and stay with the same motivation and drive we had last year,” said goalie Sara Lieffrig. “It just showed the unity the remaining of the girls had. John (Sanger), our assistant coach, helped keep us together as well.”
It didn’t take long for the Warriors to give the home crowd something to be excited about. Barley two minutes into the game, senior Shannon Earley made a penetrating run down the right side. She juked a defender to buy some space. Her cross meandered across the face of goal before sophomore Kate Gordon poked it home for the 1-0 lead.
“I tried to get as much space as I could and I got some great balls from my teammates,” said Earley.
Nearly 10 minutes later, the adavantge doubled, Earley made another rampaging run down the right to set up a cross. The first shot was saved by the feet of East goalie Courtney Dunlop, but the rebound bounced out to Kasey Coonan, who buried the shot into the open net.
The Cougars found their footing and began to exude more pressure. The Warriors’ defense — backed by Lieffrig, who was celebrating a birthday — held its ground despite starting to get some high quality chances.
The half was open and flowing, the two teams combined for 16 shots in the first 40 minutes with 11 of those going to Downingtown East.
Lieffrig made a couple of acrobatic saves in the first 40. The best of those came midway through as she reached high to touch a Taylor Platt shot off the bar.
“It was a great birthday present for Sara,” said Henderson coach Rachel Chupein. “She has made a couple of big saves for us this season. No bigger than the one she made for us tonight. She understands that as a senior, as a captain, it was her turn to step up and she did in a big way. I’m proud of her and I’m really proud of the effort everyone put forward.”
Being down by two goals, it helps if a team can score early, and that is exactly what East did. Just 11 seconds earlier than when Henderson scored in the first half, the Cougars got on the board as Amanda Wagner poked home a shot off a goalmouth scramble.
East pressed for the tying goal, but was held off by Lieffrig and the Henderson defense.
The Warriors nearly scored previously on the counterattack and the capper came with 19:52 left. Natalie Miller broke through near midfield, and found Earley, who raced in on the onrushing Dunlop. Earley slipped the the ball past her into the open net for a 3-1 win to sew up the win and the title.
The Cougars had one last grasp as a mistake in the back helped Platt break in on goal. Lieffrig came up big in making her 12th, and final, save of the night, diving to her left to parry the ball away.
“It seemed like they were in slow motion,” said Lieffrig. “It was mostly a reaction, but I played with her (Platt) on my travel team, so I knew what side is her dominant one.”
Henderson has one final game as it hosts Central Bucks West on Friday.
But for now, Chupein can bask in a championship in her first year.
“The girls really wanted this, they’ve talked about it all season and the season goes by fast, but there is a lot of games you have to win in order to win the division, so I’m proud to be a part of it,” said Chupein. “Craig (Scangerella), the former coach, laid a great foundation, and these girls work hard and love the game.”
Downingtown East 3
W.C. Henderson 1
Downingtown East 0 1 – 1
W.C. Henderson 2 1 – 3
Downingtown East goal: Wagner.
W.C. Henderson goals: Gordon, Coonan, Earley.
Goalie saves: Dunlop (DE) 5, Lieffrig (WCH) 12.
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