Vagnozzi, Spring-Ford top Boyertown in PAC-10 final rematch

The fall sports season is little more than two weeks old, yet the playoffs seem to have arrived early.

At least that’s the way it appeared Tuesday night in a rematch of the Pioneer Athletic Conference girls soccer championship between reigning champion Spring-Ford and host Boyertown.

From the tight play all 80 minutes to the more-than-just-another-game celebration, there were a lot of similarities to last year’s Rams and Bears, both of which made their deepest playoffs runs in school history.

Just like last year it was the Rams emerging victorious, junior forward Gabrielle Vagnozzi’s superb shot from distance late in the first half giving Spring-Ford a 1-0 victory over Boyertown at Memorial Stadium.

The Rams (3-0, 5-0) were all about ‘ firsts’ in 2013 — first PAC-10 championship, first PIAA playoff berth, first trip to the PIAA final. It’s a trend they want to keep going in 2014 and they managed one against Boyertown.

“We want to hold on to our (PAC-10) title and since we’ve never beaten Boyertown on their home field we wanted to make history again,’ junior defender Taylor Newhart said.

“Last year, we broke records for our school and that’s been our goal to hopefully make history for Spring-Ford again. It’s always in the back of our minds,’ Vagnozzi said.

Newhart and Vagnozzi, along with goalkeeper Jenna Griggs (two saves), defender Laura Suero (who moved from left back to center back) and midfielder Brianna Cirino are the returning starters from the state finalists, which is now coached by former top assistant Tim Leyland after former coach Sheldon Chamberlain stepped down in the preseason.

Boyertown (2-1, 4-1) has its share of returnees as well — namely goalkeeper Sarafina Valenti and midfielder Maria Garofolo, both All-Area first teamers.

While both teams are taking shape, a rivalry is brewing between the recently-expanded top echelon of PAC-10 girls soccer.

“It was a playoff game, it had that feel,’ Boyertown coach Bill Goddard said. “It’s becoming a bigger rivalry with us these last couple years. All our games, they are getting to be like the Boyertown-Owen J. games where they are one-goal games.

“They are coming off the great year they had, and so are we and I think that spills over. I think the game came down to opportunity. They had one real good chance and they took care of it. There weren’t many.’

That good chance came when the superb Vagnozzi carried the ball from the right side toward center to the edge of the 18. Despite a handful of Bears players trying to close her down, Vagnozzi got the shot off and hit it to the top right corner of goal. Bears keeper Valenti (four saves) got a fingertip to it, but the ball trickled over the line for the 1-0 lead 4:41 before halftime.

“Sarafina is an awesome goalie,’ Vagnozzi, who is the lone remaining attacking player after the graduations of fellow forwards Megan Giannopoulos and Aley Kate McKinley, said. “It feels so good to shoot and score on her (because she is so talented). I really wanted a goal tonight. I know I have big shoes to fill.’

Play didn’t open in the second half despite Boyertown chasing the equalizer. Spring-Ford’s defense of Newhart, Suero and newcomers Amy Roth and Missy Moore surrendered just two shots on goal.

The Boyertown defense of Taylor Sassaman, Darian Ruyak, Taylor Landis and Kylie Erb were solid themselves, a good sign for Goddard considering his back line is brand new.

“Both defenses were very good and had answers for what went on,’ Goddard said.

“I look at our overall picture and knowing what we had to do with the losses we had from last year and I think we’re going in the right direction. In playoff-type atmospheres like that was — it was fast, it was physical — it comes down to ‘ do you get that one chance and take advantage of it?’ And they did.’

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