Southmoreland girls soccer pushes through injuries all the way to state tournament
Monday, November 8, 2021 | 5:53 PM
Southmoreland girls soccer players wore blankets on the sideline Thursday night during the WPIAL consolation game against Shady Side Academy at Norwin.
When it gets cold, you adjust. Just like when injuries happen, you adjust.
Having players who aren’t at 100% doesn’t make coaches all warm and fuzzy. It’s how teams persevere through them that does the trick.
“The kids are pushing through them,” Scotties coach Josh Pajak said of a rash of injuries that have affected his team throughout the season. “We’ll work through it. What’s the alternative, right?”
The setbacks have not stopped Southmoreland (15-2-2) from reaching the PIAA playoffs for the first time since 2009. The team will take on District 10 champion Villa Maria (15-4) on Tuesday night.
The No. 2 seed in the WPIAL 2A playoffs, the Scotties fell to Avonworth in the program’s first semifinal appearance, 4-1. But they rebounded with a strong showing against Shady Side to take third place in the WPIAL.
A late-game outburst led to a 3-2 victory. The Scotties scored twice inside the final seven minutes to overcome a 2-1 deficit against the Bulldogs.
All that with junior defender Skylar Koshar, sophomore defender Gabby Fabery and freshman defender Lizzy Boone dealing with minor injuries — bumps and bruises from a physically demanding postseason.
Junior standouts Olivia Cernuto and Kendall Fabery have missed time with a leg injury and concussion, while a number of other players have been off-and-ons in the rotation with occasional nicks.
“I don’t think anything was going to keep them from playing in this game,” Pajak said after the consolation game. “It’s one of those things where it’s not going to get any better until they rest. They’re just not ready to rest yet. They wanted to be in there.”
Like his players, Pajak, the former coach at Mt. Pleasant, has never been to the state playoffs.
He thinks the girls’ ability to pick each other up could be what helps them advance.
“If we come out and play solid defensively, we’ll be good,” Pajak said. “Our whole team has played a part in us getting here.”
Cernuto, the team’s top goal scorer with 26 goals, said the consolation game signified a fresh start and a second chance for the team to prove itself.
“We have had a great ride and we weren’t ready to see it end,” Cernuto said. “We’ve had lots of support from one another.
“One person goes down, we have new people who step up and take that next opportunity.”
Cernuto must have felt like she played on an island against Shady Side. There are forwards and then there are forwards who play so far back they’re almost detached from their teammates.
That was the case in the consolation.
It also was a respectful defensive nod by the Bulldogs, who doubled their efforts to slow the dangerous Cernuto. She scored with 6 minutes and 24 seconds to go, then delivered a pinpoint cross to Fabery for the go-ahead score at the 3:59 mark.
Cernuto took on three or four defenders when the ball came to her, often besting them, and scoring chances materialized.
“I was taking what they were giving me,” Cernuto said. “They were holding back line, so I had space to check. If they played that through, I was right with them to get a run on them. I stayed on their back line. It gave time for our attacking mids to hold the ball if they needed to. It gave us more opportunities.”
Fabery, an 18-goal scorer, said the team has practically become immune to injuries.
“We were so excited for this game. After the loss to Avonworth, we knew it was going to be hard to rally the team,” she said. “But we really wanted this and put the work in. We’re proving ourselves.
“At this point in the season, we’re kind of banged up. But we’re ready to take the challenges on.”
The Scotties played a freshman goalkeeper in the consolation game. Alexa Smith got the start in place of senior Kaylee Keys and made four saves.
Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
More High School Soccer Girls• Franklin Regional standout goalkeeper Aris Lamanna to play at Coastal Carolina
• Colleges lining up to offer Franklin Regional goalkeeper Aris Lamanna
• Westmoreland high school notebook: Hockey teams ready for next round
• A-K Valley Senior Spotlight: Freeport’s Akina Boynton
• Latrobe’s Robin Reilly selected to U.S. Youth Soccer ODP national team