Defending champs ousted by Tigers

MANCHESTER — It doesn’t matter how fast or convenient the train ride is for East Juniata, but they managed to find a stop on their ride that no other team in Juniata County has seen.

By defeating Fairfield — the 2016 defending state champion — East Juniata has advanced to the second round of the PIAA Class A girls soccer tournament.

East Juniata coach Valeria Dressler said it was the first time a girls soccer team from the county — from either East Juniata or Juniata — has won a state playoff game.

The Tigers will take their train whistle tradition with them to the quarterfinals Saturday against District 1 champion Calvary Christian, a 2-0 winner of Philadelphia’s Conwell-Egan, at a time and place to be determined.

“It is an exciting feeling, especially for our first year coaching,” Dressler said. “It is very unreal, but very happy.”

After nearly 70 minutes of back-and-forth action, and neither team able to establish its offensive attack, Leah Sankey came to the rescue for the Tigers.

For much of the contest, the Tigers were the better team at establishing a passing game and applying pressure on Green Knights’ goalie Haley Bolin. It just so happened the Knights were the faster team and that allowed them to close in on the Tigers’ attack and stop it in its tracks.

That is until Maddison Coudriet got some separation on the right sideline and got a rocket of a pass off to Sankey, who drew Bolin up on the initial shot. Bolin had a tough time handling the ball in the tough winter like conditions, giving Sankey a second opportunity.

“The goalie caught it and I didn’t let her have it,” Sankey said. “I just ran my body into the ball and stuck with it, and it went in.

“It’s amazing (scoring the game-winning goal in a state playoff game), especially as a freshman.”

After gaining the late lead, Sankey said it was back to work for the Tigers knowing what was on the line and not letting up the lead.

East Juniata (20-3-1) used its loss to Bloomsburg in the District 4 Class A championship game as motivation to get better with each game — especially with more at stake.

“We didn’t know very much coming in about Fairfield so we just stuck on what we lacked on so we go from last game, district finals, we lacked on giving people too much room, and not being aggressive enough,” Dressler said. “At practice, we just worked on those fundamentals and we just built on from that.

“Sometimes it’s good to have a loss and then to open your eyes back up. Unfortunately, we didn’t want the loss, but I think it woke the girls up again.”

The Tigers got a little help from Mother Nature by playing in tough rain conditions Monday evening, and Dressler felt that gave the team a bit of advantage with the wet conditions at Northeastern High School.

If either team was feeling the effects of the cold and wet conditions, they weren’t showing it, espeically defensively.

For much of the contest, the Knights rarely relied on the passing game, hoping their great speed and footwork would make the offense score points. Just as a striker got past a Tiger defender or two, there was always someone there to stop the charge and get the ball far from the box. The Tigers also got in the way of any of the little passing game the Knights tried to setup.

The Knights had more shots on goal (5-4) and corners (6-2) but couldn’t establish much of anything with the Tigers getting majority of the players to play back and stop any real threat even with late season injuries playing a factor.

Dressler credits the defensive play from the team playing a role in the playoff run.

“It is very encouraging to see the girls moving as a unit, especially on defense,” Dressler said. “One steps up and another steps back and our defense has been solid for us all year. No matter who we put (out there), they understand the game exactly how we want them to perform. We lost one girl to an ACL tear and we had other girls step up for her already. It’s really encouraging to see that the girls play exactly how we want them to play.”

East Juniata 1, Fairfield 0

Second half

EJ – Leah Sankey (Maddison Coudriet), 15:28

Shots: F 5-4. Corners: F 6-2. Saves: EJ-5 (Lily Sankey); F-3 (Haley Bolin).