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Conestoga downs Spring-Ford to advance to district semifinals

TREDYFFRIN >> When Conestoga girls’ soccer coach Ben Wilson looked across Teamer Field at the Pioneers’ District 1 4A quarterfinal opponent Saturday afternoon, Spring-Ford, he saw a mirror image of his own squad.

“When you look out there at Spring-Ford, it’s like looking at a mirror, basically, because we have the same system as they do,” said Wilson. “Spring-Ford is one of the few teams in District 1 that plays really good possession soccer. They have a lot of really good talented players.”

No. 3 seed Conestoga, the defending District 1 4A champion, prevailed Saturday, 2-0, scoring a goal in each half. With the victory, the Pioneers automatically qualify for the PIAA Class 4A state tournament, and advance to the district semifinals Tuesday against No. 2 seed Boyertown, at a time to be determined.

“Honestly, it was kind of a quiet game, not a lot of fouls because both teams were trying to move the ball efficiently,” said Wilson. “Luckily, for us, maybe because we had a bit more speed and a little bit more confidence in some areas on the field, if both teams are playing the same way, hopefully that speed and confidence gets you over the edge and turns the tide for you.

”In every area of the field, we told our players that Spring-Ford was going to play a system similar to ours, with similar formations, so we just needed to win our 1v1 battles all over the field, defensively and offensively.”

Spring-Ford (15-5), the 11th seed, had defeated sixth seed Downingtown East 1-0 in the second round of the District 1 tournament Thursday to advance to the quarterfinals. The Rams had lost to Downingtown East 4-2 Sept. 28, but changed their playing style a bit during Thursday’s second-rounder.

Spring-Ford head coach Mo Hadadi said, “We had to play Downingtown East with a different strategy, so we worked [more] for our passes, we didn’t just panic and get the ball out. We want to calm down with the ball, don’t just kick it around. … The better possession you have, the more angles and windows you can create, and we’re going to continue to work on that.”

The Rams’ possession-minded style of play allowed them to stay even with the Pioneers for the first 24 minutes Saturday at Teamer Field. In the 25th minute, Conestoga senior forward McKenzie Coleman broke the scoreless tie.

Coleman smiled and said, “Annabel [junior center mid Annabel Schwartz] just popped it in behind their defense – it was a good ball – and I popped it in behind their goalie.”

This is Coleman’s first year with the Pioneers, after transferring from New Mexico.

Coleman said, “This team is super close, and we have two other really good players and scorers, Caitlin [Donovan] and Cali [Calista Courtney], who really lead the team well.”

Courtney, a senior wing, who along with Coleman and Donovan has provided plenty of scoring punch for the Pioneers this fall, said, “With Spring-Ford being more of a possession team, if they have the ball in their defensive half, it’s not a threat for us yet, but it’s when they start crossing the line that we’re going to step together and be a unit, because if we all stick together, it’s going to be hard to break us down, so that’s what we focused on [today].”

Conestoga went into halftime with a 1-0 lead; then midway through the second half, senior forward Caitlin Donovan dribbled through the Ram defense and fired home a shot that put the hosts up 2-0.

Courtney smiled and said, “Caitlin’s scored a lot of goals like that before, so when we saw that we had the opportunity to put Caitlin through, we put the ball on the ground to her feet, fast, so she can do her quick dribbling, get through the players, because Caitlin’s an amazing player. We wanted to get the ball to her feet as fast as we could for her to score.”

Two minutes before Donovan scored, Spring-Ford goalie Riley Wallace made a leaping save on a Donovan kick that was headed for the net. Wallace made a number of solid saves against the high-scoring Pioneers, and other Rams who Hadadi particularly praised Saturday were senior midfielder Ella Curry (University of Massachusetts commit), junior midfielder Hope Flanegin (a Lehigh commit), junior midfielder Molly Thomas, defender Caitlin Norwood and defender Raven Wellington.

Spring-Ford’s season is not over, as the Rams move to the four-team District 1 4A playback bracket to face host Unionville, the No. 7 seed, Tuesday at 5 p.m. for one of the district’s final two state seedings. The Rams must win Tuesday’s playback game to qualify for States.

For the state tourney-bound Pioneers, Saturday’s performance means another shot at a District 1 title.

Wilson said, “It was just a great overall performance. Our goalkeeper [junior Caroline Klaiber], our back line, both looked really solid. But the difference in a lot of games for us this season has been our attack, where we have that great speed and great technical ability. Caitlin and Mac [senior forwards Caitlin Donovan and McKenzie Coleman] can quickly transition, and when we get our secondary midfielders – Kristi DiRico, Sophia Koziol and Emily Burgess – making wide runs to support our attack, it really allows us to create quality chances. Our girls took advantage of this today.”

Two days earlier, the Pioneers earned a 5-2 win against 14th seed Central Bucks West in the second round of Districts. Conestoga was trailing at halftime, 2-1 – uncharted territory for the powerful Pioneers.

Wilson said, “Toward the end of the first half, I could tell that we were starting to get a handle on things. CB West did a lot of flicks with secondary runs, that caught us out of position a couple of times, and that’s how they got both of their goals. Once we got that figured out I could tell heading into halftime that we were getting into good control defensively,

“At halftime after I talked to the girls and we fixed some things, I could tell even when we left the locker room that all of our players were positive, confident. I felt confident that we were going to come back, and sure enough, we pumped four goals into the net in the second half.”

Coleman said, “I think we came out a little bit hungrier in the second half, and I think everyone stepped up and made sure they were outworking their player on the field, which made us more prepared and ready to receive the ball.”

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