Ligonier Valley girls soccer team not apologizing for unique path to playoffs

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Tuesday, October 20, 2020 | 5:02 PM


When a clerical error made Apollo-Ridge ineligible for the WPIAL Class A girls soccer playoffs, there was a wide-eyed newcomer waiting to fill the vacancy.

First-year WPIAL member Ligonier Valley (3-10, 2-7 Section 1-A) might have found its way into the district tournament as an innocent bystander, but the Rams aren’t complaining.

“I feel bad for Apollo-Ridge because we played them twice, and they’re a really nice program and very well-coached,” Rams coach Eric Vogelsang said. “But we are excited to get a chance to play in the postseason in our first year. “I’ve told the girls multiple times since we found out that they should not apologize to anyone for making the playoffs with a less than stellar record. We certainly weren’t declining the invitation.”

Apollo-Ridge initially told the PIAA it planned to play up in Class 2A, but the soccer program wanted to be in Class A.

The state turned the mix-up in communication, which it was not willing to walk back, into a compromise of sorts. It was not exactly to Apollo-Ridge’s liking.

Athletic director Ray Bartha, clearly remorseful for the mistake, said the PIAA turned down an appeal and told the Vikings they had to win their section to qualify for the playoffs — the Class 2A playoffs.

The same scenario will exist next year for the team.

Ligonier Valley lost both section games to Apollo-Ridge but will finish ahead of them in seeding because the Vikings are essentially invisible in the standings.

“Our move to the WPIAL was something that excited me because I knew the competition in this conference would be challenging, and our team was up for it,” Ligonier Valley senior forward Bella Schueltz said. “Although our transition into the conference started out rocky, we were working very hard every day to achieve our goal of qualifying for the playoffs, which I always believed we could accomplish.

“It is very nice to see all of the hard work we put into the offseason and the perseverance through injuries pay off.”

Section 1-A ended up having a disastrous year, and it had nothing to do with a pandemic. Riverview and St. Joseph could not field teams, and Jeannette had to forfeit a bunch of games because of a lack of players. When Apollo-Ridge’s situation surfaced, there were only four fully functioning, playoff-eligible teams left and the top four in each section qualify for the playoffs.

Ligonier Valley is the fourth-place team. Making the playoffs in their first try is like a pipe dream for the Rams, who toiled in District 6, struggling to find opponents while not playing in a conference.

“This is Year 19 for me, and the first 18 we had to search far and wide to find games,” Vogelsang said. “There was very little continuity in our schedule year-in and year-out, traveling far, never a chance for girls to be recognized all-conference and things like that.”

The Heritage Conference does not field girls soccer. Only Ligonier Valley, United and Northern Cambria had teams that would have been in the conference.

The Rams missed the District 6 playoffs in 2018 and ’19 after reaching the semifinals in ‘17.

Central Martinsburg edged them 1-0 by scoring with 90 seconds remaining.

Their maiden voyage in the WPIAL, despite the playoff bonus, hasn’t exactly been rainbows and unicorns. The Rams had to play with only 11 healthy players in a few games, and they already had been dealing with a lighter-than-normal roster.

Their wins came against Jeannette, twice by 5-0 scores, and Uniontown, 6-3.

They had to forfeit against section champion Greensburg Central Catholic, a team that beat them 15-1 in the first meeting.

“We have taken our lumps in plenty of games,” Vogelsang said. “But we strung together some wins and did what the schedule said we needed to do. “Over my career I’ve coached in 18 playoff games, winning six of them, and every last one of them was a great memorable experience.”

A mostly young team, Ligonier Valley has five seniors.

“They are some of the strongest leaders and highest-level character people I’ve ever had,” Vogelsang said.

“They kept the team together through the pandemic and have been asked to do more as a result of our low numbers and injuries.”

The other seniors are Tatum Hoffman, Carol Woods, Zoe Ferry and Savannah Martinez.

“They deserve to end their soccer careers in the playoffs,” Vogelsang said, “and should not apologize or explain away how they got there.”

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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