Penn-Trafford draws up plan of attack for girls soccer playoffs

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Tuesday, October 15, 2019 | 6:37 PM


Sitting on early leads will not be the strategy that takes Penn-Trafford far in the WPIAL Class AAAA girls soccer playoffs.

Adding to them could be what produces desired results, according to the Warriors’ coach.

“We have a tendency to sit back and protect when we’re ahead,” coach Jackie Bartko said. “We need to be able to change that way of thinking and keep (attacking). Sometimes, we play at the level of our opponent and that has been a weakness. We have such a talented group of girls that I truly believe can play with any team in the WPIAL.”

Penn-Trafford (12-5), two years removed from a WPIAL title, will begin the playoffs later this week or early next — after one last regular season game Thursday at Butler — and Bartko wants her offense to show its full potential: score more when it takes early control, force the pace of play and keep the gas pedal down.

The Warriors’ identity, she feels, may need to be more offensive-minded.

The Warriors took a 1-0 lead early on Monday against rival Norwin but went more dump-and-chase (to borrow from hockey) than push-the-pace, and they paid the price. Third-ranked Norwin made some halftime adjustments and scored four unanswered goals to claim a 4-1 win and with it, another Section 3 title.

While much of that result had to do with Norwin’s abundance of talent and speed, Penn-Trafford did not adapt to the Knights’ onslaught of shots and saw the offensive command shift.

Changes forthcoming or not, Penn-Trafford still has to be considered a contender in Class AAAA. A defensive tone can be effective: The Warriors have nine shutouts and four of their five losses are by two goals or less.

They ran out of firepower in 2-1 losses to Norwin and Fox Chapel. They fell to No. 4 Seneca Valley, 2-0.

“Yes, it would be nice to have a larger lead, but AAAA is such a tough (classification),” Warriors senior goalkeeper Megan Giesey said. “So we have to work hard and take what we can get.”

The Warriors did defeat then-No. 1 North Allegheny, 3-0.

“It’s worked for us against some teams,” Bartko said of the content-with-the-lead approach. “But it can’t work against really good teams.”

And those could be waiting as the bracket goes east.

Penn-Trafford started fast last year in the first round, scoring first against Butler only to see the Golden Tornado spin out four straight goals for a 4-1 win.

If nothing else, the Warriors could be a darkhorse in a somewhat open AAAA field that often rewards the hot-handed teams, not always the favorites.

“We didn’t plan for it to be that way, but playing under the radar can be an advantage because other teams may not see as a huge threat and we could be underestimated,” Bartko said.

Sophomore Malia Kearns and senior Sarah Nguyen lead the team with 11 goals apiece, while senior Emma Rain has nine scores.

“We have had a lot of different girls finish for us in close games, which has been great,” Bartko said, “because it has been unpredictable to the other team who is going to score.

“We have also had players step up wherever needed. I am really proud of this team and I am excited to see where they take us in the playoffs this season.”

Giesey has been one of the top goalies in AAAA for several years. Her net play has kept many challenging shots out of harm’s way.

The Pitt-Johnstown recruit has 39 career shutouts — nine this season to go with more than 120 saves.

“Megan has been incredible,” Bartko said. “She has made some fantastic saves to keep us going in tough games. One game in particular I remember is her two breakaway saves against Connellsville.”

Giesey said the Warriors’ offensive movement is a strength and will need to continue to be in the playoffs.

She said keys to advancing are “movement off the ball when we are attacking, our control of the ball in the midfield, and the leadership we have on defense.

“We are always challenging and supporting each other when we can. Also winning the WPIAL two years ago gives us experience and reminds us that anything can happen during this part of the season.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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