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North Penn keeps roll going in District 1-4A opener against Garnet Valley

TOWAMENCIN >> While there are definitely advantages to a first round bye in the District 1 soccer tournament, in some cases it’s not all bad playing the first night.

For the North Penn girls soccer team, the latter was most certainly true as the Knights rode into the 4A bracket with plenty of positive momentum behind them. A win over top-seeded Pennridge in their regular season finale gave the Knights a home game and they took advantage on a rain-soaked night against Garnet Valley.

No. 13 North Penn struck early and controlled the rest of the game as it topped No. 20 Garnet Valley 3-0 on Tuesday night.

“We came out like we did against Pennridge,” North Penn holding midfielder Becca Richardson said. “We didn’t have out heads too high or think we would just win; we knew we had to work harder than they were going to.”

“We came out here for a game, nothing was going to be easy and we weren’t just expecting to win,” co-captain and holding mid Emily Schurr said. “We were going to come out here and earn it. We all wanted to win it.”

For Knights speedster Emily Varilla, Tuesday night was also a welcome opportunity. After weeks of playing SOL Continental teams well aware of her lethal pace and ability to finish, the sophomore faced a back line not quite ready for her speed.

Seven minutes into the contest, she put it on full display to give North Penn an early rallying point. A perfectly hit early ball by Liv Urban found Varilla over the top and she outran the Jaguars’ back line, pulling keeper Lauren Dorf off the line before powering a shot off the gloves and into the back of the net.

“I think that really helped us, they didn’t know our speed and they couldn’t judge it,” Varilla said. “We took advantage of their defense and playing the ball through them. It gave us the confidence in the game that we had this and we could take it to them.”

North Penn then excelled at controlling the middle of the field and possession, with the holding midfield tandem of Richardson and Schurr making a living off winning 50/50 challenges and moving the ball around. Even with Garnet Valley playing three in the back to put more bodies in the midfield, it didn’t slow down the Knights.

The Knights’ strong flourish to end the regular season was keyed by a formation change that paired Schurr and Richardson in front of the back line and they’ve embraced the role as enforcers in front of the defenders. Still, they were outnumbered and both midfielders credited their forward line for providing some backup.

“We had our forward Tia (Sheehy) drop back and help us,” Richardson said.

“She came back as far as possible and won a lot of tackles,” Schurr said. “It was really helpful because they did have the numbers but Tia helped even it out.”

GV certainly played with a terrific effort, with sophomore forward Alyssa Wert and senior Chenai Kaminski able to take on defenders and play in some good services. What undid the Jaguars was a lack of connections in the offensive final third and an ensuing inability to put shots on target.

Having just three returning starters from last year, GV coach Paul Costa had an overall positive message postgame.

Costa credited the seniors for being the “leaders of the family” and fostering an inclusive team culture.

“One of the things we talked about was the seniors giving us a foundation for the coming years and while we lost to a better team tonight, there was nothing wrong with our effort,” Costa said. “We owe it to our seniors to use this as a foundation going forward.”

The visitors managed just one shot on target but did have some opportunities, including a superb free kick by Sophia Latella that bounced through the box without a GV player able to get to it before skimming painfully wide of the far post.

“We had a tough time with our last touch but we’ll grow from this,” Costa said. “We contested a lot of 50/50 balls but they won a ton of the second balls. They’re well-coached, have a lot of team speed and it was just good playoff soccer.”

Up 1-0, the Knights wanted more and got it when their senior co-captain dropped a thunderbolt in the second half. About 25 yards from net, Schurr created a sliver of space and unleashed a monster of a shot that darted into the upper 90 with 24 minutes to play.

“Once we get the momentum, we keep going,” Schurr said. “I just picked my head up, saw it and put toward goal like any other ball. It just happened to go in.”

Varilla helped make it 3-0 when she was tripped up in the box with 3:44 left, allowing Sheehy to step up to the spot and bury the penalty kick. Knights co-head coach Mike Rio said what makes the forward so dangerous isn’t her speed, but the work rate she displays on the field.

Schurr said the routine of practice day followed by a game day kept things normal going into Tuesday’s first round and it helped them get a chance to do it again with a practice Wednesday before a trip to No. 4 Lower Merion on Thursday at 5:45 p.m.

“It was good not having too big of a break, we’ve been playing really well and it was nice to get back out here and just keep it going,” Rio said. “We could keep feeling that energy and momentum and just kept playing for each other. Right now, I’m really thrilled with how we’re playing as a team, we’re playing for each other and working hard.”

NORTH PENN 1 2 – 3
Goals: NP – Emily Varilla (Liv Urban), Emily Schurr, Tia Sheehy (PK)

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