Greensburg Central Catholic girls soccer builds unity

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Tuesday, October 13, 2020 | 5:30 PM


Olivia Kruger did not see a need to change much stylistically when she took over the Greensburg Central Catholic girls soccer team.

This ensemble knows how to win.

Kruger knew she had an abundance of talent and just wanted to make sure the team had chemistry, along with the proper attitude, going into the season.

The rest, she figured, probably would take care of itself.

“The girls seem to agree that they’re more unified as a unit,” said Kruger, a Bernville native and former assistant at Wilson College in Chambersburg and with the Pittsburgh Hotspurs. “I wanted to make sure we’re transitioning up and down the field as a whole rather than bits and pieces.”

Massaging the necessary cohesion of an already experienced team, one that finished as the WPIAL runner-up and was a PIAA semifinalist last season in Class A, is a key hurdle she believes she cleared.

And with that, she set the Centurions loose.

GCC is 8-0 and ranked No. 2 in Class A behind Freedom (9-1). But Freedom lost 4-2 to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart on Monday, potentially opening the door for GCC to get the No. 1 seed in the upcoming playoffs.

“I think (the Centurions are) more resilient than they have been,” said Kruger, a former standout goalkeeper at Tulpehocken High School, a single-A school just outside of Reading, and at Milllersville University. “I have been so fortunate to come in here and coach such a great group of girls. They have welcomed me in, and I am lucky to be part of this program.”

Kruger was aware of GCC’s reputation as a perennial power. Since 2005, GCC has won six WPIAL titles with four runner-up finishes, two PIAA titles, three PIAA runners-up and six state semifinal trips.

“What a place for my first (head coaching) job,” she said.

Back to that style of play, Kruger admits she sometimes lets the players make adjustments on the fly.

Take senior Sam Felder and her sophomore sister, Sara, the Centurions’ goal-scoring tandem that has produced 23 scores — 15 via Sara.

“Coach Kruger has focused on being positive, supportive and bringing the team together as one,” Sam Felder said. “We play as a unit and are not focused just on offense or defense. The team’s strength is building out from the back and being able to distribute forward effectively and utilizing the speed and skill of our attacking players.”

Sam Felder, a midfielder, has missed time with an injury but recently worked back into the lineup and netted her 50th career goal.

Sara is developing into one of the better forwards in Class A.

“We mainly kept what was here in place,” Kruger said of the team’s on-field strategy. “We have one of the Felders up top, but that can change between them. We call it Felder freedom. If one sees the need to switch from the top to the other wing, I let them move. I trust their decision.”

Sam Felder said the audibles don’t happen every game.

“Coach Kruger trusts the judgment of my sister and I to move around up front to make sure we are in a position to maximize our strengths,” she said, “depending on the team we are playing against.”

Other top players are junior midfielders Tatum Gretz and Bethany Winnor, and senior midfielder Jessica Nemeth, all capable of scoring from deep or on set pieces.

Sam Felder and Nemeth are IUP recruits. Gretz a a Villanova commit and is another player Kruger can shift to an attacking spot.

Kruger calls Alexa Gill and junior Natalie Ward “dominant forces” and the leaders of the back line.

The team has three sets of sisters: the Felders, the Gills (Haley) and the Winnors (Ashley).

Kruger likes the team’s energy but said the Centurions could have used a boost when it played Springdale for a second time. GCC won 4-1, but it had to earn every goal.

“We came out slow in that game,” Kruger said. “It wasn’t like the first time we played them. We were sluggish.”

A relatively light-rostered team that started with 15 girls grew to 19 as some new players joined after the season began.

One addition is Haley Gill, who had been playing golf but came back to soccer. She was thrust into a key role when junior goalkeeper Lyndsey Szekel went down with an injury.

“She has done a nice job stepping in for us,” Kruger said. “We’re hoping to get Lyndsey back, but Alexa Gill and Natalie Ward have really helped Haley to get a rapport with them back there.”

A thinned-out schedule of only 12 games, including one nonsection game (at Chaleroi), is noticeably missing rival Shady Side Academy, which moved to Class 2A. Losing Shady Side is a mental block gone, but will GCC be playoff-ready?

Will the slighter slate have a negative effect on the Centurions? Not a cause for concern, the coach said.

“I think the less games is actually good for us,” Kruger said. “It gives is more recovery time. We’re not running the girls into the ground.”

Kruger is relatively new to the area. Her husband, Zak Kruger, is the women’s soccer coach at Seton Hill. Former GCC assistant Bri Guy, who guided the team last year when Ashley Davis went on maternity leave, is an assistant at Seton Hill.

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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