GCC girls soccer avenges WPIAL title loss to Steel Valley

Tuesday, November 16, 2021 | 9:55 PM

It’s back to Hershey for Greensburg Central Catholic.

But it didn’t look promising for a while Tuesday night when standout junior Sara Felder left in the first half with a knee injury during a PIAA girls soccer semifinal against Steel Valley.

Felder returned after halftime and needed some time to adjust to her new knee wrap, but once she did, GCC followed her — and the inspiration of coach Olivia Kruger — back to the state final.

Felder and freshman Addison Vacanti had a goal each as GCC avenged a WPIAL title game loss with a 2-1 victory at Elizabeth Forward.

The Centurions (18-2), in the semifinals for the third straight year, will get another rematch in the PIAA Class A championship game. They will play District 4 champion Southern Columbia (19-7) at 11 a.m. Saturday in Hershey.

Steel Valley (20-4) beat GCC by that same 2-1 score in the WPIAL final Nov. 5. That also was the day Kruger had her first child.

Kruger made a surprise return to the sidelines Tuesday.

Between her comeback and Felder’s rebound from injury, GCC had a pair of rallying points. The Centurions didn’t need to rally in the game, though, as they built a 2-0 advantage in the second half and held back the Ironmen.

“I am super proud of them,” Kruger said. “I am super tired, but I feel like I needed to be here for the girls. Our girls are so determined within themselves. Not having her for that limited time showed that these other girls need to step up. Every single girl on this team wants this so bad that they’re going to do anything to get it.”

Felder injured her right leg and exited the game with 16 minutes, 3 seconds left in the first half. She received attention from the training staff and did not return until the start of the second half, a black wrap on her right knee.

“I felt my knee buckle and pop, and I started to feel sick,” Felder said. “I started walking and working it out and realized I could go back in. It was worth going back in. (The wrap) was awkward and stiff, hard to run in it. It took me the first five minutes. It was so cold and I was out, so I had to warm up again. Once I warmed up, it was easy to come back.”

Steel Valley had six shots in the first half to GCC’s one, but the teams were scoreless across the first 40 minutes.

Felder showed no ill effects when she got behind two defenders, squared up from 20 yards and struck to give the Centurions a 1-0 lead in the 50th minute.

It was quickly 2-0 Centurions when Vacanti corralled a wide deflection after another shot by Felder and scored right of keeper Kendall McConnell with 28:14 left in the second half.

“They were both beautiful goals,” Felder said. “They were both off of hard work. Steel Valley was playing fast and aggressive. We wanted to show them we can beat them and that we should be going to states.”

The Ironmen responded with a goal in the 56th minute. Senior Kelsey Salopek touched up a free kick that was knocked down by GCC keeper Lyndsey Szekely. Sophomore Caitlin Perhacs popped in the deflection to make it 2-1.

Salopek, a Kent State commit, finished her high school career with 120 goals, 59 this season.

GCC’s defenders held tight as the shots kept coming down the stretch. Szekely also stood tall against the WPIAL champs.

“Steel Valley is a good team, and they brought it to a whole new level tonight,” Kruger said. “They wanted it just as bad as we did. It was just edging it out as much as we could and getting that little extra push that we needed to push ourselves forward.”

Szekely made the save of the night with 1:30 remaining. Salopek delivered a free kick from the 14-yard line that ended up in front of freshman Therese Doering, the WPIAL championship hero who had the golden goal at Highmark Stadium.

Doering fired from point-blank range, but Szekely snared it to preserve the one-goal advantage.

“She has been on freakin’ fire lately,” Kruger said of Szekely. “She has been texting me the last couple of games like, ‘Coach, what do I need to do?’ I told her, ‘You have been playing amazing the last couple games. Don’t doubt yourself. You are capable of everything that you put your mind to. Don’t question yourself.’”

Szekely made eight saves as Steel Valley peppered her with 14 shots.

“I didn’t want to go into overtime and freeze again,” Szekely said. “We wanted to get back to Hershey and we did it.”

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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