FRANCONIA >> There’s always a worry with coaches how their teams will handle a certain number of firsts.
Thursday, the relatively young Pennridge girls soccer team found itself trailing for the first time this season on the road at arguably its biggest rival in Souderton. Despite freshmen and new faces around the field, the Rams didn’t fail the test, but locked in and tried to pass it.
Sparked by freshman Liv Grenda, the Rams edged the Indians 2-1 in an entertaining and highlight-filled SOL Colonial game.
“We keep talking about learning those types of things about ourselves, especially in a shortened season,” Pennridge coach Audrey Anderson said. “The fact we didn’t panic and almost scored right after they scored on us shows a lot of determination with this young team. I wish we would have played like that the whole game, but it is a learning process.”
There’s no shortage of history between the two programs regardless of the year but it was the first time playing in the rivalry for Pennridge’s (4-0, 3-0 SOL Colonial) five freshman regulars in the lineup. On the other side, the Indians’ roster is still permeated with holdovers from the 2018 state title team, giving Souderton (2-2 SOL Colonial) a strong and skilled group of veterans.
Souderton coach Ian Smith is playing into that experience and the players’ desire to finish better than last year’s first round District 1 playoff exit. Thursday, the Indians started the game with an aggressive high press and it led to a back-and-forth waltz of opportunities and counter runs.
“The first half energy was great and both games this week, that was the focus for us to be coming out with a bit stronger energy and have a desire to win 50-50 balls” Smith said. “I think we did that. It was a good first half and a good second half for the most part. Both goals from Pennridge were a byproduct of a lapse in defensive mentality, but that’s a result of tired legs.”
Indians senior goalkeeper Morgan Molyneaux showed early she was going to be in top form all afternoon. The second-year starter was brilliant between the posts, stopping 14 shots and performing the other cursory functions of a keeper with authority.
While giving up that many shots may look a certain way on paper, the Souderton defense was rugged as well. Gianna Natale, Taylor Yoder, Maggie Fisher and Ella Kregel all accumulated timely challenges and tackles.
There’s a certain amount of frustration that comes with having point-blank shots turned aside by a keeper but once they went down a goal, the Rams felt something flip.
“Once we clicked on, we looked at each other and said ‘it has to be now,’” Grenda said. “If it’s not now, it’s going to be over and they’re going to blow us out. It felt like we were playing more individually until the goal got scored and once they scored, we knew it couldn’t be done alone and we had to work as a team.”
The trading of attacks continued into the second half and Souderton was able to pounce on one first. Hannah Alderfer played a perfect ball beyond Pennridge’s back line that found fellow Averie Doughty in stride, with Doughty blasting home a gorgeous strike on the run with 36:35 to go.
At that point, Pennridge clicked on as Grenda put it and started to push back harder. The freshman, who has played a significant role already as an attacking midfielder, found herself with the ball in space as Souderton lost its mark for a moment and that was all Grenda needed to rifle a distance shot into the back of the net.
“(Anderson) has told me if I do get the opportunity, I should try and shoot and if I don’t, try to pass off to a forward to get a shot,” Grenda said. “She does like us to take a lot of shots so I do try to look for them, as does our team as a whole. We like to work together to find the best opportunity we can.”
The pressure stayed on, although Souder managed to find a couple reprieves including a run and shot from Doughty that was blocked out for a corner by a recovering defender. Molyneaux however, was just on top of her game and kept the match tied with a couple spectacular saves including a point-blank stonewalling of Sophie Craig.
“She absolutely commands from the back and I think that’s something so crucial to the goalkeeping position,” Smith said. “That type of aura and commanding presence is so important to our team and I think it bleeds through to her play. She’s always been a great shot-stopper and to add that next dimension as a leader and a captain, it’s really great and she’s stepped up in her senior year.”
Pennridge senior Lindsey DeHaven is playing a new position this year, taking over as a holding midfielder after playing as the attacking mid last year. As a captain, she’s taken the responsibility of an unfamiliar role to heart, not opening the door for Grenda to get on the field, but being presence for her team to turn to.
DeHaven didn’t score on Thursday, but the work she and Riley Hepler did in the middle helped match Souderton’s aggressive press.
“I really liked the motivation and determination that comes from these girls, they don’t want to lose,” DeHaven said. “I love seeing these younger girls come in with that same attitude wanting to win every game so that’s what it came down to. They scored on us, but we didn’t want that to be the outcome of the game.”
The Rams found a breakthrough off a set piece chance with a shade over seven minutes left. Casey Malone heaved in a long throw into the box, where Grenda was able to win possession right along the end line as Molyneaux came toward her.
“I knew I was at a bad angle and didn’t want to take the chance on my own,” Grenda said. “I saw Emily (Kriney), so I passed it off to her and she placed it perfectly into the net. I thought it was one of our better goals because we worked together for it.”
DeHaven said the win was important for the Rams, but also a lesson that they need to find the gear they played at after going behind more consistently.
For Souderton, it was tough outcome to an otherwise excellent effort but Smith believed his team’s experience and been-there-before mentality will help it respond strongly.
“It’s a short season and we don’t know, it could even be shorter so one of our goals was to make the most of every day,” Smith said. “When you hit a bump in the road, you have to push harder. It’s not something we can hang our heads about. We know who we are.”
PENNRIDGE 2, SOUDERTON 1
PENNRIDGE 0 2 – 2
SOUDERTON 0 1 – 1
Goals: P – Liv Grenda, Emily Kriney (Grenda); S – Averie Doughty (Hannah Alderfer).
Shots: P – 16, S – 4. Saves: P – Sierra Shaeffer 3, S – Morgan Molyneaux 14. Corners: P – 7, S – 2.