Anna Croyle knows any mistake she makes on a soccer field is one people will remember, but it’s hard to remember any mistakes the Pennridge junior was actually responsible for.
There’s no position Audrey Anderson values more than center back, so for her to put a freshman who had yet to play a single minute in as a starter said a lot about what she thought of Croyle. Three years later, Croyle’s done nothing to dispel that trust and if anything, has continued to exceed expectations by just being consistently and simple.
Croyle, Pennridge’s security blanket at center back, was the anchor of another stout defense and has been selected as The Reporter/Times Herald/Montgomery Media Girls’ Soccer Player of the Year.
“Of course, there are times that’s one of the downs of the position but I want what’s best for the team and me being there means we’re having success, I’m not going to complain,” Croyle said. “The coaches do a great job of setting a tone that we practice how we play, so you get used to the pressure and everyone’s buying into that, it only serves to help us.”
Croyle earned a third straight First Team All-SOL selection as the keystone piece of a Rams defense that allowed just 11 goals in 26 matches this fall.
Anderson has known Croyle for a while, coaching her in club soccer when she was younger and figured there’d be some kind of role for her when she got to Pennridge. Not that she needed more validation, but Anderson got it from some expert sources before Croyle was even an official member of the team.
“She was in eighth grade and we had an open turf late in the school year — Maddie (Anderson), Chance Hendricks, Lauren McInytre, that whole class — was still around and Anna came in to play with them,” Anderson said. “I knew her from coaching in the youth program, but we put her in at the back going up against those girls and she was so composed on the ball that it was like ‘this is a no-brainer.’
“She was so composed and when you have those girls who are graduating and going to play in college saying ‘she’s really good,’ it just validates what you’ve been thinking about a player.”
Ask Croyle about anything she does well — for example, how she’s able to cover extra ground when one of the Rams’ fullbacks pushes up the field to join the attack — and the junior will usually start by commending someone else on the team for a job they do. In the fullback example, Croyle first gave props to Casey Malone, Meredith Blannett and Lindsey Balmer for the chances they create getting up the field and how they manage to always get back and defend.
She was as complimentary of freshman keeper Seretha DeMoss as she was of Hannah Primwhere, who filled in at the other center back for the state semifinals and final after starter Lauren Murphy was injured early in the PIAA quarterfinals.
Primarily a center holding midfielder for her club team, maybe the only position on a pitch that gets less attention than central defender, Croyle understands the value of anyone who fills their role, something she felt was a strength of the entire Rams team this year.
Her role was to make sure everyone else could do their job and not worry what might happen if the opposing team got the ball going the other way.
“There’s definitely a lot of pressure with that and I think it’s more mental than physical sometimes,” Croyle said. “I think I’ve gotten used to it with all the experience, which I’m very grateful for, but it’s definitely more mental.”
There were plenty of tackles won, interceptions made, headers claimed and clearances made from Croyle’s spot this fall. One that sticks out came in the team’s first matchup with CB East when Patriots forward Cam Williams, who frustrated and terrorized defenses all season, was a move away from a one-v-one against DeMoss early in the first half of a scoreless contest.
Croyle made a sliding stab, getting the ball cleanly away from Williams in a gutsy but confident challenge.
“As a center back, it’s important that you can contain as long as possible, especially when you’re up against a fast forward, so when we’re recovering, I just try to keep them in front of me,” Croyle said. “I know my teammates are doing the hard work to get back, so I think it’s important you don’t let yourself get beat one-v-one and give up a goal.”
Plays of that nature stand out, but it’s the routine plays that Croyle makes over and over and over that set her apart.
“If I were to put a word to describe Anna, it would be ‘smart,’” Anderson said. “She knows when to get rid of the ball, when to hold onto the ball. She, and I mean this in the most positive way possible, plays simple soccer. She doesn’t do too much, she doesn’t have to be the player everybody talks about but if you have her on your team, you know you’re going to be ok.”
Athletics run in Croyle’s family. Her older brothers Paul and Bobby were multi-sport standouts at Pennridge while her younger brother Timmy is in eighth grade and driveway or backyard competition between the siblings was a staple growing up.
Interestingly, basketball has been a common trend among the Croyles although Paul, who plays baseball at Moravian, Bobby — a quarterback at Susquehanna University — and Anna have all gravitated to other sports as their main athletic pursuit but she thinks Timmy may finally be the one to put hoops No. 1. Anna, who has helped the Rams’ girls basketball team off to a 5-3 start, pointed to the inter-family games as a crucial part of her athletic upbringing.
“I have to give so much credit to my brothers,” Croyle said. “Playing with them in the backyard or driveway, I didn’t always win which would give me that competitive drive throughout the years and has made me tougher and stronger. It’s definitely paid off, which I’m thankful for.”
Croyle is the first to deflect credit for the team’s 18 shutouts or the paltry 11 goals allowed to the entire backline —Malone, Murphy and Blannett the usual starters with Balmer and Primwhere filling in as needed — DeMoss in goal, the midfield and even the forwards for checking back to help. It’s part of the reason she’s been named a team captain each of the last two seasons and with only one senior on this year’s team, Anderson saw Croyle grow more into the role.
“Her confidence has grown so much and it showed in her leadership in how she played and in her voice a little bit more,” Anderson said. “Last year, she wasn’t super-vocal but the way she played, everybody respected and this year she was vocal and everybody loved even more the way she played so she was that full package.”
In September, Croyle also announced her future plans by committing to Syracuse. The idea of playing big-time college soccer started forming in her freshman year, when she started every game and helped the Rams win their first state championship and standout campaigns with her club team in between high school seasons brought plenty of programs calling.
The Orange bring the allure of playing in the ACC, arguably the best conference in women’s soccer with perennial national title contenders like North Carolina, Duke and Florida State among others. Syracuse doesn’t have that same reputation but the challenge of raising the program’s profile drew Croyle to make her decision.
“One of my first calls with their coach, she mentioned they were going to face the toughest competition,” Croyle said. “I could see they were on the rise and I wanted to be part of that. I wanted to be that underdog, maybe one day we’ll upset a UNC, who knows but I’m definitely looking forward to fighting to compete with the best of the best.”
Croyle’s focus for the offseason is adding more on the offensive side, the junior saying she felt there were a lot of goals off corner kicks she left on the field this fall and owes to her teammates that hit set pieces to be better in front of the net. Then, there’s the not so small matter of the team’s goal to win another state title.
As a freshman, she admits to not really understanding what the accomplishment meant but having gotten back to the title game and falling short this fall, it’s the goal for her and the rest of her class.
“Anybody who’s known Anna for a while knows when she puts her mind to something, she’s going to make it happen,” Anderson said. “She’s not the player who looks at herself as some great player, she’s always wanting to do better. She’s very humble, she’s team-first and I think all those qualities have made her the player she is and makes others want to do right by her.”
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