Bethel Park girls soccer continues resurgence with another playoff season

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Saturday, December 4, 2021 | 11:01 AM


The turnaround began last year and continued into the 2021 season.

After sitting out the WPIAL playoffs from 2015-18, Bethel Park’s girls soccer team qualified last year with a 6-4-2 section record, then continued its upswing this year.

The Black Hawks went 5-1-1 in the home stretch of their schedule to wrap up the playoff berth with a 6-5-1 record in Section 2-4A, tied for third place with Mt. Lebanon.

Back-to-back shutouts Oct. 11-13 against Upper St. Clair (1-0) and Baldwin (9-0) clinched a postseason appearance for the Bethel Park girls.

“I couldn’t be happier with the girls’ season,” coach Rob Heuler said. “They were extremely coachable, adjusting to different formations on the fly and staying organized in the most competitive of games. It was a challenging season, playing in a strong section with the likes of Moon, Peters Township, Mt. Lebanon and Upper Saint Clair.

“The girls battled in every game and really came into form in perfect time for a playoff push. We did not find success at the hands of one player, but as a united team depending on each other all season, pushing each other to become the best versions of ourselves.”

Bethel Park also defeated South Park (3-0), Mt. Lebanon (3-2) and Norwin (3-0) in October, lost to Canon-McMillan (1-0) and played to a tie with Peters Township (1-1).

The Black Hawks ended the regular season with a 10-5-1 record after finishing 6-5-2 overall in 2020.

Moon (10-1-1), Peters Township (7-2-3), Bethel Park and Mt. Lebanon finished as the top teams in the section, followed by USC (5-5-2), Canon-McMillan (4-8) and Baldwin (0-12).

Bethel Park opened the year with a pair of victories in the Avonworth tournament, defeating North Hills (8-1) and South Fayette (5-1).

The Black Hawks had a set lineup for most of the season. Freshman Freya Blatz secured the starting goalkeeper’s job, while juniors Marena Chernicky and Kristen Horgan were center backs, senior Julie Heh a right back and junior Meghan Tischler a left back.

At center midfield were senior Macy Mathias, junior Eva Blatz and sophomore Olivia Dawson. At forward were senior Lily Gaston, junior Lauren Heh and freshman Grace Ferency.

Gaston is vice president of her school’s chapter of the National Honor Society and serves as presidential advisor for the Student Government Association.

She also does social justice and advocacy work through GirlGov (as part of the Women and Girls Foundation of Pittsburgh), where she is on the leadership council.

“It was a really fun season,” Gaston said. “My teammates are incredible, and I am so grateful to have played along side them. Our section is always a battle to make it into the playoffs.

“One of my fondest memories of this team was the response we had following a really disappointing loss against Canon-Mac. We were able to rally and beat Upper St. Clair, which was huge in helping to secure a spot and a home game in the playoffs this year. My team always played with so much heart and effort. Every win was a team battle which made each one that much more rewarding.”

Gaston, a Johns Hopkins recruit, peppered in four goals against Baldwin. Ferency, freshman forward Sydney Felicetti, Eva Blatz, Tischler and Dawson added one apiece, with Felicetti netting her first varsity goal.

Co-captains this year were Gaston, Mathias and Eva Blatz.

“Lily set herself apart as a scoring threat, consistently converting highlight goals all season,” Heuler said. “Macy and Eva kept the team connected in the midfield.

“Olivia added to the dynamic in the midfield with her dominance in the air and composure on the ball to round things out.”

Bethel Park enjoyed its home-field advantage in 2021, losing only once in nine games on its home turf and racking up a 7-1-1 record with five shutouts.

The BP girls enjoyed a 21-4 overall scoring difference at home. In fact, they did not allow more than one goal in any home game all season.

“Julie and Marena were veterans in the back line, keeping us disciplined throughout the season against top WPIAL competition,” Heuler said. “And Lauren added a great work ethic and high-end performances all season long at forward. All of these players plus a deep bench added to our success as we continued to chase our goals.”

Heh connected for the game-winner against USC off a cross from Gaston in the 53rd minute. Blatz recorded the shutout as the back line of Heh, Tischler, Chernicky and Horgan held the Panthers to zero shots on goal.

Freya Blatz limited 13 opponents to one goal or less and posted six shutouts this season.

“Freya really stepped up in goal and adjusted to the level of play, especially for a freshman playing against talented upperclassman forwards,” Heuler said. “Kristen Horgan, Meghan Tischler and Grace Ferency were pleasant surprises for how well they fit into the team in first year on the varsity. They were all players we grew to rely on game to game.”

Artemis Conaboy, a sophomore forward, rebounded from a leg injury suffered in her team’s first scrimmage to help make an impact in the second half of the season.

“Artemis was a great sub coming off the bench,” Heuler said. “She was a starter last year and unfortunately had a long recovery from her injury but was a great addition to the team.”

Gaston, an All-WPIAL selection who plays the cello in her school’s chamber orchestra, led the squad in scoring and ranked among WPIAL scoring leaders with 15 goals and three assists. Dawson chipped in with seven goals while Eva Blatz added four goals and six assists.

The Black Hawks, who outscored the opposition 43-19 this season, received the No. 8 seed in WPIAL Class 4A lost, 1-0, to No. 9 Fox Chapel in the first round.

“I am super proud of everything the team has done,” Gaston said. “We’ve come really far over these past four years and the coaching staff has been a huge part of building the culture and team chemistry.

“Even though we didn’t get the result we wanted in our playoff game, the atmosphere and support was incredible, especially from the Bethel Park Soccer Association and the younger players who came to cheer us on. I am confident that the program will continue to find success under coach Rob, and I look forward to seeing what they can do in the future.”

Gaston competes for Pittsburgh Riverhounds ECNL in the offseason. She has a 4.574 GPA and plans to continue her soccer career at Johns Hopkins as a double major in international and public health studies.

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