Published: December 6, 2012
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The Abington Heights girls soccer program is accustomed to winning titles.
This year, the Lady Comets entered the District 2 Class AAA playoffs in search of a fourth straight district title.
This time around, it was an all-or-nothing scenario for the team, which did not win a Lackawanna League division crown during the regular season.
Undaunted by Superstorm Sandy, which delayed the playoffs and hampered preparations for the district playoffs, the Lady Comets persevered with wins over Williamsport and Wallenpaupack to claim the championship.
"Our district games were tough; Williamsport was a different team than the first time we played them," Lady Comets coach E.T. Hunter said of the 1-0 victory in the semifinals. "First time around, we were more organized, faster and aware all over the field. The second time, they were even with our game, which made it even more exciting."
Freshman Ally Christman scored the lone goal in the first half and a tenacious defense kept the Lady Comets in front, despite seeing Williamsport control play for much of the second half of the Thursday, Nov. 1 game.
Three days later, Wallenpaupack sought some revenge for a regular-season loss to Abington Heights when they met for the district title at Marywood University. The Lady Buckhorns scored first, but Christman and fellow freshman Emma Henzes each delivered a pair of goals in the second half to secure a 5-1 victory on Saturday, Nov. 3.
"Wallenpaupack came out full-speed and it's not that we sat back at all," Hunter said. "They had us against the wall, then the girls flipped a switch and really made an offensive point. The girls played right to my expectations through districts and I'm very proud of them. Every year I have high expectations, every year they're met. We've had three years of great teams."
Hopes were high at the start of the season, with the Lady Comets focused on claiming the Lackawanna Division I crown over powerhouse programs Scranton Prep and Valley View, but injuries began to pop up and altered the team's makeup in September. When senior standout Alex Chapman tore an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), the team found itself without its leading scorer, and it took some time for Abington Heights to find its flow again.
"The loss of Alex was difficult," Hunter said. "She's so strong in our league and being sidelined really hurt her. She never missed practice or games and encouraged the team to keep going like she would have until the final whistle."
With Chapman now in the role of spiritual leader, serving as a motivational figure on the sidelines, the Lady Comets started to pick up the pieces. However, they ran into a motivated Scranton Prep team early in the process of replacing Chapman, and suffered a 5-1 loss to the Classics in October. The Scranton Prep Classics would go on to win the division title and the District 2 Class AA title, also reaching the state quarterfinals.
"Being handed that loss against Prep, our biggest loss since my taking the head coach position, we had a real shake-up on what we needed to get through districts," Hunter said. "Practices were a little more focused, our lineups were more consistent and mentality was a little sharper."
The Lady Comets got through the rest of the regular season unscathed as the team continued to improve as districts neared. Hunter made adjustments, such as moving junior Isabelle Clauss to midfield to add more punch to the offense. The team began to click.
The defense was stout with senior goalie Melanie Coles leading the way with defenders like sophomore Perrine Wasser and freshman Lydia Lovecchio rising to the occasion.
"Wasser, against Wallenpaupack, she played better than any game I've seen her in an Abington uniform," Hunter said. "Melanie Coles had a great conclusion to her senior year."
Heidi Frantz and senior Sarah Sopinski rounded out the starting defense.
With Clauss in the midfield, senior Abbey Burke recovered from an injury as well and teamed with Henzes and senior Katrina Helcoski to set the tempo for the Lady Comets.
"Midfield sets the pace for game play," Hunter said. "We were efficient at slowing everything down to develop an attack at full speed. It's an interesting contradiction, slow down to go full speed, but our mids know how to pace the game."
Up front, Christman and senior Paige Eisenlohr were dynamic and opportunistic.
"Working defensively and offensively, our forwards created a lot of problems for opposing defenses," Hunter said. "Speedy and cool under pressure Ally was there to find the net."
The result was a balanced attack with Christman, Clauss and Helcoski netting eight goals apiece according to the team's statistics, with Henzes and Chapman having seven each. Twelve girls scored goals for Abington Heights and nine had assists, led by Helcoski's nine and five apiece by Burke and Clauss.
Depth has always been a mainstay of the Abington Heights program and this year was no different as sophomore forward Michaelina Holmes had four goals, junior midfielder Olivia Julian, and defenders Anna Laughter, a junior, and Emily Bonsick played big roles off the bench for Hunter.
It all added up to a state playoff appearance, and has Hunter looking forward to next season.
"We're graduating very experienced, accomplished seniors," Hunter said. "It's always challenging thinking of how to repeat positive results. Every team is different; the girls taught me that and I'm thankful. Building a new team will start with the first practice next year."
While the building goes on, expectations will be high once again, but it is a level of play the Lady Comets are used to striving to attain.