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Erin Flanagan’s free kick sparks Pope John Paul II past Upper Merion

UPPER MERION >> Pope John Paul II junior Erin Flanagan took free kicks last year as a sophomore, but focused on getting the ball to her teammates. This year her shot is stronger and she’s looking to score when she gets the opportunity within striking distance.

Flanagan got that opportunity and delivered against Upper Merion Tuesday night. Her score from 35 yards away in the 47th minute broke a scoreless tie and sparked a 2-1 Pioneer Athletic Conference win over the Vikings at Upper Merion Area High School.

“I really saw that the goalie was shifted to the one side,” Flanagan, who almost scored on a second free kick from 45 yards out, said. “I tried to lift it up into the top left corner.”

The Golden Panthers (2-1, 2-0 PAC) doubled their advantage less than eight minutes later. Julia Hull set Cameron Schuler up for a one-on-one opportunity against the Upper Merion keeper and she delivered, giving PJP a 2-0 lead with 25:59 remaining in the game.

Izzy Legendre cut Upper Merion’s deficit in half in the 79th minute. The upperclassman celebrated her Senior Night with a free kick from 35 yards out that PJP’s keeper couldn’t handle.

It was fitting that the Vikings (0-1-1, 0-1-1 PAC) scored on a set piece. Throughout the game all of their best scoring chances came on free kicks or corners. Sophia Lamestra put a solid shot on goal on a free kick in the first half and Legendre almost scored on a free kick from 40 yards away early in the second half. Emma Wellington put a couple corners right where she wanted, but the ball couldn’t find the back of the net.

“It’s something that we’ve been building towards,” Upper Merion coach Jeff Kushner said. “We’re still trying to figure out the attack. We’ve really been trying to break our game down into three phases of can we win it, can we keep it, can we penetrate. That last penetrating opportunity is something that we’re learning and we have taken a bit more time to talk through it and look through it – where do we want to play set pieces? Where can we get runs? A couple corner kicks we had – if we had a little better body position to frame it on the back post we could’ve gotten one in. It’s been a good focus for us in finding easier ways to score when we’re already set into the attack.”

Aside from the set pieces, Pope John Paul controlled most of the game and the Golden Panthers defense kept the Vikings from generating many scoring opportunities.

“What we saw was them just trying to kick it down the field,” Flanagan said. “We’re really good at reading those balls and being able to get them out quickly.”

Legendre made plays on both ends of the field for Upper Merion all night. In addition to her free kick goal and her near-score, she consistently got the ball out of the Vikings defensive third.

“She’s a four-year varsity starter and a captain,” Kushner said. “Izzy is all about the team. Izzy is going to do whatever it is that she needs to do so that she can benefit her teammates. Her teammates rely on her to be that center stalwart in the back, to be that strength in the back, to be that figure. Izzy best defines what a team player should be, which is I’m going to do whatever I need to do to put my body on the line, to put my head on the line, whatever it needs to be I will be there for my teammates.”

Gina Marinelli made six saves in goal for PJP while Upper Merion’s Sarah Adams stopped 10 shots.

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