UPPER MERION >> In the post-game euphoria following Nia Scott’s overtime game-winner that gave Conestoga a 2-1 victory over Souderton and the PIAA District 1 4A championship Saturday, the Pioneers’ co-captains briefly talked about the challenges they overcame to get to that title-winning moment.
“When I saw the ball go in the net, I just remember screaming and running up to hug Nia, because I was so excited,” said senior defender and co-captain Jordan Roe. “Winning the district title means the world to me, just because we worked so hard to get to where we are – our freshman year started off very poorly, we only won five games. To work to get better every season, and then to win Central League and Districts, and going to States, I just feel very happy and proud of the work that we’ve put out on the field.”
A more immediate challenge the Pioneers faced Saturday was No. 8 seed Souderton, who took a 1-0 lead midway through the first half when the Indians’ Sara Readinger scored on a header off a corner kick. It was the first time during the 2018 District 1 tourney that No. 2 seed Conestoga (19-1-2) fell behind, but the Pioneers weren’t worried.
“Yesterday, Coach [Conestoga head coach Ben Wilson] showed us a video of the Liverpool team in [the 2005 UEFA Champions League Final], where they were trailing 3-0 at halftime, but came back to win,” said Conestoga senior midfielder and co-captain Emily Wertz. “That’s what I was thinking about the whole time we were trailing, it was like, ‘We can come back and win.’”
The wind, blowing steadily at about 15 MPH, was at Souderton’s back most of the first half, and by halftime the Indians had three times as many shots on goal as did Conestoga.
Roe said, “Even when we went down a goal in the first half, I wasn’t worried about it at all. I knew the wind [at Souderton’s back] was playing a big factor, and I knew we would be able to come back in the second half.”
Conestoga didn’t even have to wait until halftime for the equalizer. With 9:20 left in the first half, Scott got on the end of a Reese Henderson free kick to slot the ball into the net for her 16th goal of the season.
Wilson said, “In the first half, we struggled against the wind and got pinned in our own half a bit, which doesn’t happen to us very often. I wasn’t too worried, because I knew in the second half, when we had the wind at our backs, things would turn around, but luckily we got a [first-half] goal against the wind, which made it a clean game.”
Scott, who was named Most Valuable Player of Saturday’s game by the Pioneers, cheerfully clutched her “award,” a cheese sandwich, as Conestoga players lined up after the game to receive their district championship medals.
“The cheese sandwich [tradition] actually started at the beginning of last season,” said Wilson with a laugh. “We were at a scrimmage day at Phoenixville High School, a few blocks from my home, and the girls played a few games in a row and were complaining about being hungry. So my wife [Katie], who is our JV B head coach and helps me out with varsity, said whoever puts the ball in the back of the net to win the game would get a cheese sandwich.
“So [the tradition] kind of stuck, we bring a cheese sandwich to every game, and whoever is named MVP of the game gets the cheese sandwich. It’s not like the winner eats it, it’s like a little trophy but not the kind of [award] the girls would get jealous about. It’s something to break the tension – sometimes you come out of a [tight] game like this, it’s good to have something funny.”
Conestoga junior goalie Sarah Nselel made a number of key stops Saturday, and finished with eight saves.
“Sarah did a great job; with the wind tonight, it was really tough,” said Wilson. “Souderton had probably the best center midfield pair we’ve seen this season [seniors Sara Readinger and Campbell Power], really composed and physically tough as well. They were getting shots off at any opportunity. So, [for the goalie] even just gauging where the ball’s going, to determine whether it’s going out of bounds or whether you need to make a save on it or not, is really difficult and is even harder when it’s windy.”
In the second half, with the wind at its back, Conestoga took the majority of shots, but several of them hit the post and the regulation 80 minutes ended in a 1-1 tie.
“I felt confident that we were going to score eventually, but when you sustain an attack for that long, though, you kind of start losing that momentum,” said Wilson. “We were kind of packing it in and just playing defense the last 10 minutes or so [of regulation].”
Conestoga made some adjustments at midfield for the overtime period.
“We took our right winger off the field and put in an extra center midfielder,” said Wilson. “I think that helped to neutralize [Souderton’s] attacks through the center of midfield and allowed us to progress the ball down the left side, which we had been successful with during the second half.”
With 8:29 left in the first overtime period, Henderson moved the ball down the left side, finding Scott near the Souderton 18 yard box. Scott dribbled into the 18 yard box after beating a Souderton defender 1v1, and kicked the ball into the corner of the net for the game-winner.
“When Nia got the ball I knew she was going to score, from where she was just outside the 18 on a 1v1,” said Wilson. “Nia on a 1v1 opportunity is basically a goal [scored] any time she gets the ball. The second she received the ball, I got a sense of relief that we were going to score.”
Roe said, “I saw Reese pass Nia the ball, and I was just waiting for Nia to put it in the back of the net.”
So it’s on to the PIAA state tournament for Conestoga – first round is Tuesday.
“Winning Districts means the world to me because it’s the next step to getting to the state championship [tournament],” said Wertz. “I’m really looking forward to our next game.”
Conestoga 2, Souderton 1
Souderton 1 0 0 – 1
Conestoga 1 0 1 – 2
Goals: Scott (CO) 2, Readinger (S).
Goalie saves: Nselel (CO) 8, Pazdziorko (S) 8.
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