Resilient Wissahickon advances past Abington on penalty kicks

LOWER GWYNEDD >> Abington’s final penalty kick slammed into the bottom of the cross bar then down, landing on the side of the line favoring Wissahickon.

From midfield and the sideline, the Trojans surged into a celebratory pile, their second on their home field in less than a week. The Galloping Ghosts meanwhile, were left to make the slow, painful walk off a soccer field for the last time this season.

In a classic, Wissahickon and Abington tied 1-1 in double overtime Tuesday night with the Trojans advancing 4-3 on PKs in the first round of the District 1-AAA girls soccer tournament. It was a hard-fought result for a surging Wiss side and a cruel ending for a tough and gutty Ghosts squad.

“In practice, we work day in and day out, we tried to stay calm the whole game, we made sure to play as a team and play as a unit,” Trojans senior Krysta Memis said. “We were going to win together or lose together. Going up to take my PK, I had to get everything out of my mind, know where I was shooting and put it away.”

Even an inspired effort by senior captain Julia Guarini wasn’t enough to overcome the sting of defeat for the 17th-seeded Ghosts.

“I’m real proud of the effort, all season long,” Abington coach Rick Thompkins said. “It’s a good group that did a lot of good things. It just wasn’t our night.”

Abington was without emerging star freshman Camryn Lexow, who was sidelined by a knee injury and was expected back Thursday had Abington advanced. Yet, even Lexow, who could do little more than kick a ball, found the will to get off the bench and drill a penalty kick in the shootout.

That, coupled with Guarini leaving little doubt that she was the toughest person in the stadium, was emblematic of all that Abington accomplished this season. Ravaged by injuries from the start of preseason, the Ghosts still collected some huge wins and great moments. Nearly every player gutted out some kind of injury during the season and the leadership from seniors like Guarini, Maddie Doyle and Toni Washington kept the team from falling apart.

Tuesday, it looked like they were off to another with a quick start. After a good run and better ball from Marissa Heath, Doyle was able to finish from close range and put Abington on the board with 36:54 left in the first half.

“The seniors are a special group,” Thompkins said. “They’ve been through some really tough years, it doesn’t matter what the obstacle is, they still give it their all. You can’t ask for more than somebody’s best and they all gave their best.”

Wissahickon shook off the quick strike and settled into the game. Center midfielder Emily Vervlied tested Abington from deep to open things up. The Trojans sat at the very bottom of the bracket last week, then won their last three games to vault up to No. 16, earning them a home game.

Jasmine Bishop was able to spring a run on the left and got a ball across the endline into the box. Hanging around was senior Mady Foglia who turned and chipped the ball to tie it 1-1 with 23:35 left in the half. Being on their own turf was a vital part of Wissahickon’s ability to hold off Abington.

“We weren’t in the best position even from the middle of the season,” junior midfielder Maddie Elwell said. “When we got a home game, we knew it was something we really needed to capitalize on because we owed to our team that we didn’t give up, we pushed through the whole season.”

While the first half saw two goals, it was calm by comparison to the second half. It was 40 minutes with a bit of everything except a winner.

Abington senior Gianna Beck did an excellent defensive job shadowing the dynamic Elwell. Used to getting the ball and just going, Elwell was quite frustrated by Beck’s stout defense. Beck was so solid that the Trojans opted to move Elwell to left back and the junior knew it was on her to get her head back in the game.

“When I had the ball, there was always two players on me so a lot of it was not letting them get in my head because that’s what I was letting happen in the first half,” Elwell said. “I was frustrated because they were wherever I was. Learning that once I got the ball at my feet not to waste any time was big because they were man-marking me but once I got the, ball it wasn’t as hard.”

With 24:22 left in the second half, Wissahickon’s Alexis Smith arrived late on a tackle, crashing into Guarini from behind, earning a yellow card and sending the Abington senior down to the field. Guarini had to be helped off the field with a right knee injury and looked to be done for the night as the half wore on.

Without their playmaker, Abington yielded ground to Wissahickon and nearly yielded a goal if not for an incredible play by Heath. Talia Abrahams fired a shot that bounced through the keeper and rolled toward the gaping net when Heath came sprinting in from the far side of the field, sliding and kicking the ball off the line just before it rolled over with 15:12 left.

“There’s so many good things that they did (this year),” Thompkins said. “They worked hard, they played for each other, they had big wins, tough losses but they did it together and weathered the storm all by themselves.”

With 8:53 left in the second half, Smith was shown a second yellow and thus a red card, removing her from the game and putting Abington up a player for the duration. That seemed to energize Abington and they nearly struck for a go-ahead goal when Tess Nelson sent a rocket at Keanna Haney.

Somehow, the Wiss senior got a few fingers on it with a full-extension save.

“I just go for it,” Haney said. “When you’re in net, you can’t think, you just have to go after your instincts and go for it. If you think, you’re going to hesitate and you’re going to mess up.”

Despite a few more chances each way, the game somehow remained deadlocked after 80 minutes. As the first overtime started, Guarini stretched out, strapped on a knee brace, told Thompkins she wanted to give it a go and made her way to midfield. With 5:02 left in the first OT, she came back in.

“There’s talent here to go with the heart and the chemistry,” Thompkins said.

Down a player, Wissahickon didn’t fold in the overtime periods and neither side found a winner in the extra 20 minutes, setting up the decisive shootout.

“Going through that was really tough but we knew we had to play for her and play for the rest of our team,” Memis said. “We had to keep it locked in and send our seniors off with a win.”

“We wanted to score early in overtime, but that didn’t happen,” Foglia said. “We knew what we had to do, we just had to think about it as if we were practicing and not let the pressure get to us and just sink the shots in.”

Wissahickon didn’t miss any of its PKs, with Gabby Unipan’s tally the winner after Abington missed once and had its last go off the crossbar.

Guarini was one of the last Abington players to leave the bench, her right knee wrapped in ice and needing support from a couple of teammates. It seemed an unfair end for a player and team that had given so much and surprised so many people.

The Trojans move on to face top-seeded Central Bucks East on Thursday. It was the first playoff win for any player on Wissahickon’s roster and while they respect and understand the challenge East poses, they’re playing with confidence right now.

“We’ve been working toward this goal our entire high school career,” Haney said. “Finally getting it just feels awesome.”

“We’ve been to playoffs every year and every year we’ve come close,” Folgia said. “This year it shows that we pulled through and beat the odds.”

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