Defense to provide backbone for high-scoring Mt. Pleasant in WPIAL girls soccer finals vs. Avonworth

Thursday, November 3, 2022 | 1:54 PM

To some people, a scoreless soccer game that goes into overtime might be a yawner.

But to coaches like Mt. Pleasant’s Rich Garland, a soccer purest who appreciates sound, structured play, games like that can be glorious.

“It was an extremely fun game to watch,” Garland said of his team’s 1-0 semifinal win over No. 3 seed South Park Tuesday night that propelled the No. 2 Vikings (19-1) into their first WPIAL final. “South Park got organized. We were organized. It was a blast. Just really fun soccer.”

Junior Riley Gesinski scored early in overtime for the golden goal.

Imagine how much fun the team might have if it wins the next game.

Defense supposedly wins championships, and Mt. Pleasant is ready to play plenty more of it when it takes on No. 5 seed and defending champion Avonworth (18-3) for the Class 2A title at 11 a.m. Saturday at Highmark Stadium at Station Square.

Avonworth, which reached the state final last year, will play in the WPIAL finals for a third straight time after knocking out rival and No. 1 seed North Catholic, 2-1.

The Vikings are hoping to adjust quickly to the Antelopes’ physical style while possessing the ball on a wide field.

“We’re confident in the way the four of us work together,” junior Maggie Piper said of the team’s defensive unit. “We know how important defense will be in this game. We can’t make mistakes.”

Mt. Pleasant has an up-tempo, exciting style that has produced 125 goals — 31 from freshman Morgan Gesinski and 29 from sophomore Rylin Bugosh. That’s the team’s engine.

The transmission, however, is its back line and goalkeeper, a unit that has produced 15 shutouts and surrendered just four goals against Class 2A competition.

The Vikings play an odd 3-5-2 formation with Piper and freshmen Raygan Mizikar and Caitlyn Fullman in the back and goalkeeper Laurel Rummel, another freshman, protecting the net.

Mt. Pleasant starts six freshmen.

“There is a lot intensity and they don’t give,” Garland said of his defense. “The way we play puts enormous pressure on our backs. They have to be good one v. one, fast and be able to play in the air.”

Rummel said she has not yet processed her team making the final.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “We have to keep playing well (on offense and defense). It’s fun to watch our forwards play the way they do, but we have to be ready.”

Avonworth coach J.C. Mahan said his team is focused more on itself than Mt. Pleasant.

“We focus on our values and playing the beautiful game the beautiful way,” Mahan said. “The girls love and play for one another and have an unwavering determination for achieving that success.

“We are preparing as we do every game, by focusing on how we can be at our best. If we continue to work on ourselves and get better each day, we will have found success.”

Sophomore Fiona Mahan has a team-best 21 goals and 19 assists, while junior forward Gianna Babusci has 20 goals and 10 assists, and junior midfielder Minah Syam, another Division I prospect, has 16 goals and 11 assists.

Structure and holding shape could be the key for Mt. Pleasant.

“If we get flustered and get away from what we do, we’ll have a problem,” Garland said. “The attacking mids have to create chaos. And if we possess, the backs don’t have to defend. We have to be the most technical, the most tactical and have the most toughness.”

Garland hopes the Vikings can celebrate their first title in the team’s 25th year of existence.

He said if his team gets starry-eyed, he wants them to think about the program.

“Remind them of where they came from, their roots,” he said. “It’s about the people who came before and those who will come after. How are we representing them? We’re here, but there is no guarantee we will be back.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at

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