Covid-19 shutdown forces defending champion North Allegheny girls to turn focus to playoffs

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Saturday, October 17, 2020 | 11:01 AM


As a defending WPIAL champion, no one would’ve blamed North Allegheny’s girls soccer team for glancing ahead to the playoffs.

Now, that’s their only focus.

Covid-19 concerns caused the team to shut down for the final two weeks of the regular season, canceling section games with Butler, North Hills and Seneca Valley. The team received the unwanted news one day after an 8-1 victory at Pine-Richland on Oct. 7.

“It was very emotional, obviously,” senior Tulasi Syamala said. “We’d come off of a big win against Pine-Richland, and to find out that news was kind of heartbreaking.”

But the team took comfort in knowing its season wasn’t over.

“It’s definitely disappointing,” senior Sarah Schupansky said, “but we’re just trying to keep everyone safe on our team and every other team. We’re grateful that we can play in playoffs.”

The Tigers went 7-2 overall in their shortened regular season and 6-1 in Section 1-4A. They didn’t get a chance to maybe chase down Butler for the section title, but their body of work put them securely in the WPIAL playoff picture.

The top four teams from each section qualified.

“First, you’re frustrated because you see the growth and how the team has been performing and developing and getting better,” coach Chuck Kelley said. “But you’re grateful that we still have this opportunity that’s in front of us.

“Our season isn’t over.”

Virus-related shutdowns impacted teams across the WPIAL this fall, but North Allegheny’s regular season had felt rather normal, Kelley said, so the stoppage was a shock for the players and coaches.

“You kind of start taking things for granted and just assume everything is going to play out the way it’s supposed to play out,” he said. “This was that dose of reality for us that at any time, this season could come to an end.”

In a way, if the team had to have a shutdown, this might have been the best time.

The Tigers returned only four starters from last year’s lineup that won the WPIAL title, so there are a lot of new faces on the field playing significant minutes — including some sophomores. Two of them, Lucia Wells and Anna Bundy, rank among the team’s scoring leaders. Wells has 14 goals and seven assists. Bundy has six goals and six assists.

If the shutdown came earlier in the season, that might have stunted the team’s development.

“We were at the stage where we’d worked out a lot of the details that we needed to take care of,” Kelley said.

Schupansky was the team’s leading scorer with 15 goals and 20 assists. She was one of the four returning starters along with Syamala, Alex Spano and Hallie Marsalis. The team won its final three games before the shutdown and defeated those opponents 22-5 combined.

The players couldn’t gather in person as a team for two weeks, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t working out together. The team’s captains, including Schupansky and Syamala, led online workouts to keep their teammates active.

“It varies every day,” Schupansky said. “It’s something we can do to get together. It’s not the hardest of workouts or the longest of workouts, but we’re just trying to keep everyone on the ball and keep them fit.”

They were determined to make their break beneficial.

“I think this time off will be good,” Syamala said. “We’re going to come in rested compared to the other teams. We’re doing a lot of work on our time off to make sure when we get to playoffs we’ll be ready.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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