Yough, North Catholic ready for first WPIAL girls soccer championship appearance

Friday, November 1, 2019 | 7:02 PM

Yough and North Catholic’s girls soccer teams had a sense of relief after winning Monday’s WPIAL Class AA semifinals.

But the pressure is back on Saturday for the championship match at 10 a.m. at Highmark Stadium. It is the first titel-game appearance for the Cougars (17-1-1) and Trojanettes (13-4-0).

After making its third semifinal appearance in six years, Yough was thrilled to punch through and play for the title.

“They are definitely excited,” Yough coach Dann Appolonia said. “Our preseason goal was to win the section and, ultimately, get to this championship game.”

Likewise, North Catholic is elated.

“We are beyond excited,” North Catholic coach Emily Karr said. “These girls expect a lot from themselves, and this is something they’ve talked about since the beginning of the year. No matter what happens, both schools have something to be proud of for just getting there.”

The second-seeded Trojanettes beat Brownsville, 2-1, in the quarterfinals and breezed past South Park, 4-0, in the semifinals. They closed the regular season with a pair of shutouts for three clean sheets in its last four games.

“As a coach, defense is something I usually key on since I was a goalkeeper when I played,” Karr said. “This group of players likes to go forward and attack. They have a great mentality there.”

Sophomore Jayden Sharpless led North Catholic with 17 goals during the regular season. She had two more in the win over South Park, but the Trojanettes’ offense isn’t limited to her. Sophomore Tehya Dave, who scored in the semifinal win, Grace Billman and Tori Michalski are other top scorers.

“I have so many players who are creative. I try to give them the freedom to do what they can in the attacking third,” Karr said. “We have seven players in double digits in goals, and we’ve talked all year about wanting to be difficult to play against in the postseason. That means getting goals from several players. I have been surprised all year long with where our goals have come from.”

Likewise, Yough has no problem piling up goals or winning close games. The Cougars beat Highlands, 10-1, to open the tournament and shut out Burrell, 1-0, and Freeport, 3-0, to reach the title game.

“I think we’ve been playing pretty consistent soccer all year. We haven’t been an up-and-down team,” Appolonia said. “Some games have been a little better than others, of course, but I think we’ve been playing steady soccer since the beginning of the season.”

Similar to North Catholic, Yough has a diverse attack. Senior Justine Appolonia led the team with 29 goals in the regular season, and freshman McKenzie Pritts had 23 and junior Natalie Vilchek added 16.

“Not every player will be their best every night. Having multiple players who can score gives you confidence you can score and makes it tough for opponents to isolate a player,” Dann Appolonia said.

The Cougars’ defense has posted five shutouts in the past seven games.

“I always say that if you can start with a solid defense and limit the goals you give up, you have a chance to win,” Dann Appolonia said. “Our defense has played fantastic all year long, and we need one more game from them.”

For North Catholic, the championship appearance takes on extra meaning for seniors Olivia Bonvenuto, Julia Bukowski, Maddie Laird, Emma Kunzmann and Kayleigh Robic.

“The girls really enjoy each other, and we have a wonderful senior class,” Karr said. “Those five seniors are the reason why we still a girls program at North. Several years ago, we were really low on numbers. This senior class is what the program is built around, and they’re all important contributors.”

Both teams advance to the PIAA tournament, which starts Tuesday. The winner plays District 10 runner-up Mercyhurst Prep (16-4-1). The loser meets D-10 champ Villa Maria (15-6-0).

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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