Balanced approach paying off for Belle Vernon girls soccer team

Tuesday, September 10, 2019 | 7:09 PM

Belle Vernon’s girls soccer team cruised through its section last year.

The Leopards are winning with ease again this fall. Belle Vernon is off to a 4-1 start, including a 3-0 mark in Section 2-3A play.

“We’ve really been working more as a team in these last couple games,” junior Jillian Butchki said. “Being able to connect with each other and being there for each other has helped us succeed.”

The season started with a 4-2 setback to Connellsville in the tournament the Leopards host, but they bounced back in a big way with a 4-0 win over Latrobe and decisive section victories over Uniontown (12-0), Ringgold (9-1) and Albert Gallatin (11-0).

“That loss motivated us,” coach Tracey Lovett said. “Connellsville is a fabulous team and very skilled. They are putting up big numbers, too. That 4-2 score was a lot closer than it seems. We had opportunities. We hit the crossbar once and their goalie made some great saves.”

Like last year, when the team went unbeaten (12-0) in section play, offense has been a strength. In its four wins, Belle Vernon has outscored its opponents, 36-1. The production has been distributed throughout the lineup, with Butchki leading the way.

“We have a lot of girls that can put the ball into the net, so we’ve been able to spread the wealth in these first couple games,” she said. “It’s not like we have to focus on one person to get it forward. We’ve had ton of assists, too. We’ve been able to work the ball up from defense to be able to get scoring opportunities.”

With junior Izzy Laurita, a 33-goal scorer last season, leaving the team to concentrate on preparing to play college soccer, scoring balance is key for the Leopards. Morgan Einodshofer and Farrah Reader have joined Butchki in the attack.

“All kinds of girls are scoring. It’s so good to have goals from multiple players. It’s a very positive start for us. I’ve been able to clear my bench in all these games and everyone is contributing,” Lovett said. “We’re getting things done in a team fashion.

“I am firm believer that one player doesn’t make a team. I think these girls are seeing we can’t rely on one person. When you have one player scoring, other teams pick up on that. We have to rely on the whole team in order to go far in the postseason. I am very pleased, but we still have a lot to work on.”

The Leopards’ defense has shut down the opposition in the four wins. The unit, which features defender Katie Hrycko, Marissa Grubbs, Adeline Guess and Sade Patterson and goalkeeper Grace Henderson, has three shutouts already.

“Our defensive is super solid,” Butchki said. “Marissa and Katie have lead the defense and they have really helped keep the ball from going in the net. They’ve been a huge help.”

Midfielders Chloe Morgan, Danielle Engstrom, Klaire Temoshenka, Emma Sabolek and Gianna Laurita are some of the other players chipping in offensively and defensively as well. Freshman Victoria Rodriguez has contributed in the field when not spending time at goalkeeper in place of Henderson. The team looks forward to adding midfielder Autumn Forte once she recovers from injury.

“We’ve had a decent amount of girls get on the field and it doesn’t affect our level of play,” Lovett said. “It’s wonderful having girls coming off the bench that I can rely on.”

The Leopards just hope it all leads to postseason success. The team has lost in the first round of the WPIAL tournament the past three years.

“That’s been our issue,” Butchki said. “We’ve done really well in section, but our main goal is to get farther in the playoffs. Even our nonsection games, we’re trying to have teams challenge us so we’re better prepared for when we get to playoffs. We just want to keep doing what we’ve been doing and keep progressing.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.


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