‘Beach Patrol’ defense makes Belle Vernon girls soccer team hard to play against

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Monday, October 11, 2021 | 6:56 PM


Five years ago, Belle Vernon’s boys soccer team had a smothering defense — and confidence to match.

The Leopards looked in the mirror and what they saw impressed them so much they gave their defensive unit a nickname: “Border Patrol.”

This year’s girls team at Belle Vernon might need a nickname, too.

“I don’t know, maybe Beach Patrol,” senior midfielder Morgan Einodshofer said with a grin. “Our defense has done a great job all year.”

Going with the Leopards’ theme, consider the defense this team’s spots — a defining characteristic that makes Belle Vernon what it is. Without it, they’re just another fast cat.

Fifth-ranked Belle Vernon (12-3, 9-2 Section 2-3A) recently posted four straight shutouts — five in six games — and has blanked eight opponents this season. One of those shutouts was against Connellsville, which was ranked No. 5 when it fell to the Leopards, 4-0, for its first section loss.

WPIAL goals leader Mary Kate Lape was held scoreless by the Leps’ unit.

“They’re not our flat four. They have been awesome, all six of them,” Leopards coach Tracy Lovett said. “We want to possess the ball and build up from the back. They have been a well-oiled machine.”

Known for producing high-end goal scorers and playing more of a finesse game, Belle Vernon has a pair of go-to scorers in Einodshofer and junior forward Farrah Reader. The latter had 21 goals and 12 assists through 14 games, the latter 18 goals and 11 helpers.

But the upper crust of this team isn’t all offense. The Leopards have some grit, too.

The defense is like the layers of athletic tape that hold together senior defender Adeline Guess’ cleats — the ones she won’t get rid of out of superstition.

“I have worn them for three years and they have been good to me,” she said.

And Guess has been good to the defense. Lovett said the aggressive center back is one of the team’s best defenders.

“She is a captain for the second year in a row and she’s like having a coach on the field,” Lovett said.

Guess, junior Laurel Lehnhardt, sophomore Kalin Lezama and senior Chloe Morgan, all returnees from last year’s 13-3 team that lost to Oakland Catholic in the first round of the playoffs, make up the defense as part of a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Morgan, a Westminster commit, played a key role in keeping Lape off the scoreboard against Connellsville.

But the younger girls are adjusting to playing on the back line.

Sophomore Kaylee Antonic is another part of the defense but has been out of the lineup for a few games.

“Calin had never played defense in her life, and Kaylee was just thrown in there,” Guess said. “With us, we don’t get too worked up when the offense falls apart. Some of us played cup together, so we have a connection.”

Belle Vernon had six shutouts all of last season.

“Our defenders are a vital part of the team,” Einodshofer said. “They get the ball up to us and get us started. I believe we are definitely peaking at the right time.”

Junior Victoria Rodriguez is the goalkeeper and is having a fine season after recovering from a torn ACL she sustained last high school season.

“She has progressed really well,” Lovett said. “She is very confident and vocal.”

Belle Vernon’s three losses are all by one goal. It fell to Trinity (2-1), Connellsville (1-0) and Elizabeth Forward (1-0).

Set pieces are something the defense is learning to deal with.

Trinity won on a questionable penalty kick, while Connellsville and Elizabeth Forward won on direct free kicks.

The win over Connellsville the second time through section play gave the Leopards a strong vote of confidence.

Since Lovett took over in 2019, the Leopards had lost to the Falcons four straight times, the last two off direct kicks.

“Belle Vernon is a very patient team,” Greensburg Salem coach Jessica Melodia said. “They make you work for shots.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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