Veteran trio corrals talented young Mt. Pleasant team

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Thursday, November 10, 2022 | 10:18 PM


With only two seniors in the starting 11, one might think Mt. Pleasant lacks veteran leadership. That this team is just a bunch of whiz kids running around aimlessly.

But that could not be farther from the truth for the Vikings (20-2), who sit two wins away from a trip to the PIAA Class 2A girls soccer championship.

Despite a youthful lineup that features six freshmen and two sophomores and holds the key to future title runs, the glue that holds it all together is the calming presence of a senior trio.

The budding talent is fortified and given structure by the three veteran players: midfielders Marissa Garn, Sophia Gonofsky and Cassidy Fullman.

“They started as freshmen, so they can kind of help the younger girls along,” Mt. Pleasant coach Rich Garland said. “They are extremely important to our success. They have helped with the change in expectations since they were freshmen.”

Mt. Pleasant will play District 10 champion Fort LeBoeuf (15-1-2) in the state quarterfinals at noon Saturday at North Allegheny.

Garn and Gonofsky will continue to pilot the team physically and verbally, while Fullman — on the shelf all season with a knee injury — once again will add her voice to the gameplan.

“I have been a captain the last two years so I am constantly talking to the girls, telling them it’s OK and to keep their heads up,” said Garn, who has college interest from IUP. “I talk to them a lot, but I also try to lead by example.”

Gonofsky said coming up in the program as an active player when she was a freshman and sophomore gives her perspective on what the younger girls are going through. Although, those teams she was on never went this far — neither has any in school history.

“When we were (that age), we were considered an average team,” Gonofsky said. “We were always overlooked. We knew this ninth grade class was coming up. We all respect each other and get along. We give them advice, and they give us some too.”

Fullman’s role has been critical, Garland said, despite the senior watching many games from the sidelines in a wheelchair or on crutches.

“We would be a totally different team if she was healthy,” Garland said. “She brings that big, physical play. And she has a rocket shot. Now, she handles our pregame talk.”

Garland said there have been times when Garn has made subtle suggestions during games to strengthen the attack.

“She’s not confrontational, and she’s not up in your grill,” Garland said. “But she provides quiet leadership. In the Southmoreland game down there, we were only up 2-1 at halftime and she gave me some thoughts. We scored four goals in the second half.

“Garn is unsung. She is strong and physical. When she fouls you, you know she fouled you.”

Gonofsky, Garland said, has been one of the key facilitators, with 12 assists.

Fullman, a Seton Hill commit, has tried to make the most of her dilemma.

She said it was always a dream to play for WPIAL and PIAA titles.

“Being on the sideline has been such a bummer,” she said, “but I would say my role from the sideline, being a senior and captain, would be just trying to encourage the girls and give some pointers of the game that they might not always be able to recognize, with how quickly the game is played.”

Fullman said perspective matters to the Vikings’ talent-rich underclassmen.

“I try my best to make sure they all know how talented they are and how proud I am of them and that they need to keep their heads up even when it gets tough,” she said. “I mostly just try to be as helpful, positive and as much of a resource as I can be for them.”

While Garland lets his seniors talk to the team, some of the younger girls wanted more from him.

“When we played Southmoreland, I asked the girls: ‘What can I do better?’ ” Garland said. “(Sophomore) Maddie Barrick said, ‘We want you to yell at us more.’ It was amusing but it made me think. I used to yell a lot, but I have mellowed out. Maybe too much.”

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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