Defenders play unsung hero role for high-scoring GCC girls soccer team

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Wednesday, November 18, 2020 | 4:02 PM


Players and coaches agree, the scoring machine that is the Greensburg Central Catholic girls soccer team could not do what it does without its defensive sidecar.

Offense might be its defining characteristic with so many weapons and scoring threats. Coach Olivia Kruger is glad to see that her team has scored 120 goals this season — 36 in six playoff games, including 14 in the PIAA tournament.

With the offense coming up aces, GCC (18-0) sits one win away from a state championship as it prepares to play Southern Columbia (14-9) in the Class A final at 11 a.m. Friday in Hershey.

But Kruger’s contentment goes up a notch when she talks about the Centurions’ defensive back-line play. The unheralded unit makes the hard outs behind the home run-hitting forwards and midfielders.

“After we won (Tuesday in the semifinals), one of our defenders was upset and had her head down,” said Kruger, a former Tulpehocken (District 3) goalkeeper who played collegiately at Millersville. “I told her, ‘You have no reason at all to be upset.’ They have a high standard. Our defenders have been solid all year. They’re really the unsung heroes.”

GCC, in the state final for the first time since 2014, dominated possession in Tuesday’s 7-0 semifinal win over Cambridge Springs at Norwin.

The offense was out for blood, as usual. GCC had 34 shots to zero for Cambridge Springs.

But the defense wanted something else to adorn the mantle: a shutout.

Junior goalkeeper Lyndsey Szekeley could have done her math homework while the game was being played on the other half of the field. It was that one-sided.

But the Centurions were in position when Cambridge managed to eke the ball over the 50-yard line a few times.

“We try to capitalize on transition and use that to our advantage,” Kruger said. “We hadn’t been (in a playoff game) where (the defenders) weren’t as active. But they stayed ready. That, in itself, is a feat.”

The old adage “defense wins championships” could end up pertaining to this group.

GCC’s hard-wired defensive unit consists of seniors Alexa Gill and Hannah Hoffman, junior Natalie Ward and freshman Ella Machusko.

Gill and Ward, starters since they were freshmen, hold down the center-mid spots with Machusko at right backer and Hoffman on the left side.

“We’re like a family,” said Ward, who comes from a family of siblings who are playing or have played soccer at a high level. “We learned to back each other up, 100%. And we’ve learned to communicate better.”

GCC only has five shutouts, but it has held four other opponents to one goal.

Its rapid-fire approach, which has set the pace in a pair of wins in the state playoffs (7-1 vs. West Branch), has forced teams to abandon game plans early and begin to force the issue.

While that is happening, GCC is getting loose on the edges and putting more space between itself and the opponent on the scoreboard.

Dictating the pace Friday could be what leads GCC to its third state title and first since 2013.

“This is exciting for the girls,” Kruger said. “They have worked hard and stayed focused to get us here.”

GCC could become the first team in program history to finish unbeaten. The 2012 state championship team was 23-1, losing the season opener to Fox Chapel, while the ‘13 team was 21-2. It lost to Shady Side Academy in the WPIAL final that year.

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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