Southmoreland the surprise of WPIAL girls soccer

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Tuesday, September 22, 2020 | 5:01 PM


Southmoreland is by no means a girls soccer powerhouse.

The program has five wins combined the past two seasons and has not been to the WPIAL playoffs since 2015. It has not won a playoff game in a decade.

But suddenly, there were the Scotties upsetting not one, but two top-five ranked teams last week to start the season.

They handled Class 2A No. 1 Brownsville and No. 4 Yough by identical 4-1 scores, then downed McGuffey, 5-1. Sophomore Olivia Cernuto has scored 10 of the 13 goals.

Another talented sophomore, Kendall Fabery, has anchored a tightly knit defense. The Scotties are up from the abyss and ranked No. 5, a reason to start taking soccer more seriously around Alverton.

Life is good so far, yes. But it’s early. The Scotties (3-0, 3-0 Secton 3-2A) feel they’re barely worthy of a ribbon, let alone a prize, for their early play — at least to this point.

First-year coach Josh Pajak, the former Mt. Pleasant coach, doesn’t have enough of a body of work to evaluate his team and doesn’t want the team get ahead of itself, but he sees potential nonetheless.

“We are working very hard and are on a mission to improve daily,” he said. “Our work rate has shown out in the first few games. This has truly been a team effort. Everyone has embraced their role, playing their position and being responsible.”

Defensive pressure has been key, a facet that has opened scoring lanes for Cernuto, who moved from midfield to striker, a position switch that was like flicking a match for the Scotties’ attack.

“We are applying a lot of pressure on teams the moment we lose possession and forcing turnovers or not allowing them to get the ball in threatening areas,” Pajak said. “We have really played hard and with lots of urgency to regain possession. I’m happy that we have finished when the opportunity comes, but I’m just as pleased with our defensive effort.”

Pajak called Fabery a coach on the field for his four-defender set.

“She is a highly talented player who plays in the offseason at a very high level,” Pajak said. “She battled some injuries last season as a freshman, otherwise she would be a household name. She is to our defensive effort what Olivia is to our attack.”

Cernuto already is known around the community. She was the freshman point guard who helped lead the basketball team to its first WPIAL finals appearance and PIAA playoff trip in the winter.

She already has 26 goals in her career after quietly breaking onto the scene as a freshman.

“I feel that this group is so good and our season is starting off strong because of all the work we have put in and how well we mesh together,” said Cernuto, who had a four-goal game against Yough, last year’s WPIAL runner-up. “We have formed a really tight bond as a team. … I knew we could have a very successful season because of our personnel we have, and being able to start out 2-0 against two strong teams helps us with the mindset that we are able to compete with these teams. The previous seasons have been rough for us, so I feel as if teams overlook us. So our strong start will have teams look at us differently.”

Pajak said Cernuto is adapting well to the new position, physically and verbally. Her ability to handle give-and-go type plays, rather than challenging the entire defense, is what makes her a good scorer.

“Olivia has great athleticism,” Pajak said. “I don’t think people know how physically strong she is. From summer workouts on, she demonstrated great ability to hit the panels of the goal.

“As she becomes more comfortable, I think she will become more dangerous.”

Double- and triple-teams will likely begin to follow Cernuto.

“She keeps her game simple and is unselfish,” Pajak said. “If doubled, she will pass off to a teammate and let them take advantage of space. I think she gets this from playing center midfielder and point guard in basketball.”

While Cernuto and Fabery are pacing the Scotties, teams must be mindful of other players.

Juniors Taylor Klingensmith and Tatum Lucero are solid in the midfield and set up Cernuto, and senior Bailey Steban also is valuable along the back line. Klingensmith had two goals against McGuffey.

“They have really been able to control the middle part of the field, which has been a big key to our defensive success and also our attack connects through them,” Pajak said.

Junior Kaylee Keys is a first-year starter at goalkeeper but has held her own.

Cernuto said she sees some similarities in the program beginning to blossom into something special, just as the basketball team did.

“Hopefully, we will be able to get as far this season as we did the past basketball season,” she said.

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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