Highlands girls soccer hungry after last year’s playoff near-miss
Thursday, August 22, 2019 | 6:04 PM
That’s all that separated the Highlands girls soccer team from a spot in the WPIAL Class AA playoffs last season.
But the Golden Rams hope to change their fortunes this season and return to the postseason for the first time since 2016.
“We have the desire to win. We’re hungry,” said senior Hailey Hiester, one of seven seniors who were on the squad as freshmen in 2016.
“We were so close (to the playoffs) last year. It made us want to work even harder in the offseason.”
Second-year coach Jenna Plummer said she was pleased with the way the returning players and newcomers worked this fall, from indoor soccer at Pittsburgh Indoor Sports Arena and weight training to the Highlands Area Soccer Club spring session and summer workouts.
“This is a very dedicated group,” Plummer said. “They knew that to get to where they need and want to be, some extra work had to go into it.”
Last year’s playoff near-miss came on the heels of a 1-13-2 season in 2017.
“There was an attitude change,” Plummer said. “It was hard to not be discouraged after the season they had two years ago. There was a fresh perspective coming from me. We put everything that happened in the past and made a fresh start.”
Highlands finished last season 4-6-2 (fifth, 14 points) in Section 2-AA. Apollo-Ridge (5-6-1, 16 points) picked up the fourth and final playoff spot, and a late-season 1-0 win by the Vikings over Highlands turned out to be the difference.
“We worked and worked until that final buzzer went off,” senior midfielder/defender Ariana Kovach said. “We played our hearts out. All we wanted to do was make playoffs, and we were so close. But we did work, and I feel that the work we’re putting in now will help us get to that next level.”
Plummer said Hiester, Kovach and the other seniors who have been with the varsity program for four years — midfielder Samantha Dutch, defender Madison Faas, midfielder/defender Courtney Kline and forward/midfielder Mykaela Palermo — have provided strong leadership.
“They have been through it all, including three coaches in four years,” Plummer said. “That’s not an easy thing to do. The only way they were going to overcome that was to stick together, and they did that.”
Hiester, who also serves as a kicker for the Highlands football team, traditionally is a forward, but she has also been in the running to replace graduated goalkeeper Sam Gildner, a four-year starter and all-star who now is on the women’s team at IUP.
Senior newcomer Rachel Rhinehart, a transfer from Ohio, also is in the mix at keeper.
Plummer said Palermo will be one to pace the goal scoring this year.
“She had a great season last year and a breakout offseason,” Plummer said. “She’s little, but she’s mighty.”
Deer Lakes (11-0-1) and Burrell (9-2-1) were the class of the section last year. The Lancers reached the WPIAL Class AA semifinals and lost in the consolation game, and Burrell was a quarterfinalist.
“Every night in section last season was interesting,” Plummer said. “There were no huge blowouts. I anticipate the section to be solid and competitive again.”
Highlands opens Aug. 30 at the Ambridge Tournament against the host Bridgers.
“We have a nice core back, a lot of great leaders,” Plummer said. “The girls trust in each other and have a willingness to refuse to lose. These girls are fighters.”
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
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