By its nature, the defensive midfielder position in soccer is demanding.
Those who play it are almost always under some kind of pressure, they’re forced to read and react quickly and mistakes are magnified just due to where they are on the field. It’s not a position for everyone, but also one perfectly suited for Souderton senior Sara Readinger.
Readinger not only relishes her role, she thrived in it this year as Souderton made history by winning its first girls’ soccer state title. Her standout play, which hit an even higher level in the postseason has led the midfielder to be selected the Reporter’s Girls Soccer Player of the Year.
“It’s funny, Kailee (Harwick) in scrimmages sometimes had to play holding mid and would always say to me ‘I hate playing that, it’s so much,’ and I just genuinely love it,” Readinger said. “It’s my favorite position to play and I think it’s because of that constant movement and being on the ball. I like having the ball at my feet and that position allows me to have the ball a lot but also gives me more control over the game.”
Readinger’s been playing soccer since she was four, following her older sister Emily, who now plays at Arcadia, into the sport. Not only does the senior love the position, she’s pretty much built for it. At 5-foot-10, Readinger brings size to mesh with her skill on the ball.
Kicking the ball always came naturally and she fell in love with soccer right away. Always being taller, she tried basketball for a little, but that didn’t quite work out.
“I told my dad when I was playing basketball all I wanted to do was kick the ball,” Readinger said. “I just loved soccer from the start, I loved having a role within a team and just always found it really fun.”
A varsity player as a sophomore and junior, Readinger came into her senior year expecting the Indians to contend in the SOL Continental and district, but didn’t expect the run the team ended up going on.
Part of the reason that happened was Readinger expanding her influence on the field. Always defensive-minded, the midfielder was never tasked to be a major factor in the attack, so she didn’t make too many runs forward.
If the Indians were going to do some of the things they wanted to, they needed a more aggressive Readinger.
“I’ve played defensive mid my entire life, so I never really played an attacking role and for me, as I got more comfortable in the position it allowed me to be more attack-minded,” Readinger said. “I know I have the ability to drop back and I trusted Sarah (Toche-Manley) and the other defensive mids to cover me, the way if they wanted to go up the field I would cover for them.”
Offensively, Souderton had its struggles in the first half of the season. The Indians played five scoreless draws and at times early in the season, relied on Readinger and attacking midfielder Campbell Power to carry a lot of the weight in terms of scoring.
A tweak in the formation really helped and as the team’s young crop of forwards started to get more confident and bury chances, the field really opened up for Readinger.
In Souderton’s first meeting with Pennridge, the Rams’ midfield out-played Souderton’s but the rematch, which the Indians called their turning point, Big Red’s midfield group matched Pennridge in a 0-0 draw.
“She’s an all-around player, if you want a player who does everything, she is it,” Souderton coach Lindsy Jones said. “She’s strong on headers, technically can hold the ball and doesn’t lose the ball, she passes well and moves off the ball well, she shoots well, she’s strong on the ball and tackles well. When I think of the all-around player, it’s Sara.”
Asked to quantify what makes her so well-suited to the position, Readinger started with her height, saying it lets her be a ball-winner in the air for her team. The senior added the entire team worked well together, so when she either won the ball or got a pass, there were plenty of options.
During any Souderton game, it was common to hear Readinger’s voice calling to a teammate, letting them know she was open and ready to take the ball if needed.
“I hold myself more accountable for the things I do on the field,” Readinger said. “When I make a mistake, I know I have to work harder to make up for it. I think I’ve become better at having more of an offensive mind instead of just relying on the defense behind me or dropping it back, I’m more confident turning and taking it up the field and finding other people’s feet.”
Readinger always liked the game but it wasn’t until she began playing club soccer for FC Continental that the midfielder realized she had the ability to be a difference-maker. During her tryout, Readinger didn’t even think she was going to make the club but when she did, that’s when things all clicked.
Next year, Readinger will continue her career at Penn which provided the right mix of academics and athletics. Readinger cited the Quakers’ coaching staff as a major draw because they’re used to working with athletes who also want a demanding academic schedule.
“Just based on my experience in club and high school, there’s still a lot I have to improve on,” Readinger said. “I can definitely be faster with my feet to play more one-touch and move the ball faster or moving off the ball to get open quicker.”
During Souderton’s postseason run, Readinger was one of if not the best player on the field in every game the Indians played. The senior said she didn’t feel like she was doing anything differently but noted there was an extra sense of urgency in everything she and her teammates did.
“I wouldn’t say she played any different, she was consistent throughout the season,” Jones said. “That’s what you want from a player. There wasn’t really a game where I thought ‘she’s not having a good game.’ She’s as consistent as consistent can be. She’s phenomenal.
“We had a lot of rocks on the team, people who were consistent and hard to get through and she’s one of them. But it wasn’t just on the defensive end, we wanted to get her involved and you couldn’t ask more from someone in that position.”
It’s been less than a month since Readinger and her teammates hoisted the state title trophy in Hershey after edging Pennridge 1-0 in overtime. Of course, the midfielder had a key play late in the game, getting to a 50/50 ball first and slipping a short pass that helped set up the game-winning goal by Averie Doughty.
“It’s slowly sinking in,” Readinger said. “We had a parade through our school and right at the beginning I turned to Campbell and said ‘I can’t believe we did this.’ Right after the game, it was not real. Now, I’m still in shock but it’s sinking in. I’m just so proud of our entire soccer program, coach Lindsy coming in her first year and winning a state championship, it says something about our school and our athletic program. We value teams and coaches and we give everything we have.”
GK: Lindsey Pazdziorko (Souderton/Sr)
D: Sarah Williams (Pennridge/Sr)
D: Trish Hauck (CB West/Sr)
D: Miranda Kullmann (Souderton/Sr)
M: Sara Readinger (Souderton/Sr)
M: Ashley Groeber (Pennridge/Sr)
M: Ally Clark (Germantown Academy/Sr)
M: Tina Haig (Upper Dublin/Sr)
M: Cam Lexow (Abington/Sr)
M: Emily Schall (Lansdale Catholic/Sr)
F: Abby Groff (Pennridge/Sr)
F: Casey Touey (Abington/So)
GK: Mary Kate Levush (Pennridge/Sr)
D: Laura Pendleton (Upper Dublin/Jr)
D: Keira O’Sullivan (Lansdale Catholic/Sr)
D: Emma Dickson (North Penn/Sr)
D: Kailee Harwick (Souderton/Sr)
M: Mollie Hanson (Gwynedd Mercy Academy/Jr)
M: Cam Ryan (Hatboro-Horsham/Jr)
M: Campbell Power (Souderton/Sr)
M: Maddie Anderson (Pennridge/Jr)
F: Lauren Ruth (North Penn/Sr)
F: Kailey Horton (Abington/Sr)
GK: Jaclyn Martino (Upper Moreland/Sr), Ashley Schmidt (North Penn/Sr)
D: Cailin Panacek (Gwynedd Mercy Academy/Sr), Molly Groff (Pennridge/Sr), Megan Gallagher (CB West/Sr), Sascha Keitz (Upper Dublin/Sr),
M: Lexie Moss (Upper Dublin/Sr), Maggie Cliggett (Archbishop Wood/Jr), Chance Hendricks (Pennridge/Jr), Caroline Weir (William Tennent/Jr), Ryan Fitzsimmons (CB West/So), Paige Hoegar (Archbishop Wood/So), Kara Thomas (Hatboro-Horsham, Jr), Taylor Connelly (Lansdale Catholic/Jr), Grace Sacchetti (North Penn/Jr), Tori Albrecht (CB West/Jr)
F: Averie Doughty (Souderton/So), Kellie Gillen (Lansdale Catholic/Jr), Alyse Caffery (Plymouth Whitemarsh/Sr), Allison Asmann (Lower Moreland/Sr), Peyton Weber (Wissahickon/So), Allie Prue (Mount St Joseph/Sr), Sophia Mahoney (St Basil/Sr), Emily Booth (Upper Dublin/Sr)
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