Ball control

Southern’s Tori Romania (26) controls the ball against an East Juniata defender in the District 4 Class 1A girls soccer championship Saturday night at Selinsgrove. SCA won the district title, 3-2.

CATAWISSA RR — Sixteen of the best Class 1A girls soccer teams in the state will be hitting the field today in hopes of beginning a four-game run through the PIAA Championship.

Southern Columbia (16-4-1) is unquestionably one of the strongest of the bunch.

After defeating East Juniata, 3-2, in Saturday’s District 4 Class 1A Championship game, Southern travels to Danville today to take on District 11 champion Moravian Academy (10-6-1) in the first round of the state playoffs.

Southern assistant coach Jen Stine said that she has heard the Lions offense plays a physical style of game led by fast-footed forward Maddie Tran.

“That style of play works to our benefit because it’s obvious that we play physical as well,” she said. “Maddie Tran is a fast forward that we know will take it to us, and we embrace that. When you just get finished defending (East Juniata’s) Hailey Swartz, you’re ready for that kind of attack.”

The Tri-Valley League named Swartz the most valuable player in the conference after breaking TVL records with 27 goals and 59 points in 2018.

Southern had a light practice in the gym to get away from Monday’s rain in preparation for the game.

“It’s a little different from being on the turf but I don’t think it’s any harm for us to not get outside,” Stine explained. “We feel that mentally we are prepared and rest is more important right now because not many teams had to play an entire district tournament in six days.”

The Tigers played an expedited schedule through the district postseason after rain forced the opening round to be postponed.

Southern Columbia’s district playoff run, which featured one-goal wins over Bloomsburg, South Williamsport and East Juniata, was highlighted by big goals from unlikely players.

In the semifinals against the Mounties, senior Sami Palacz scored a game-winning penalty kick for only her second score of the season. In the district final, senior Caitlyn Lichtel notched her third goal of the season in what turned out to also be a game winner.

“If anyone wants to know what a champion looks like — look at Sami, or look at Caitlyn,” Stine said. “For four years, actually six if you count junior high, they were given a job and they ran with it. It never came with a lot of glory, and it was never high profile, but we told them over and over how valuable they were. This year they got to show it at such an important time because they are ultimate team players and we are so lucky to have them.”

The team’s top goal scorers of Maggie Morrison (14), Morgan Marks (14) and Kari Cambria (10) have also, as expected, had a large impact during the district playoff journey.

But it wasn’t the Southern offense that Stine was talking up heading into the game against East Juniata.

“Prior to the game, I would have never guessed we would score three goals,” she explained. “I thought it would come down to a defensive effort, but once we saw how the game was going and that they were dropping off the forwards, we took advantage of our speed. Once we scored the first goal I knew we would be able to get more.”

Stine said she is aware that Southern is one of the favorites in the bracket, but said the team refuses to overlook any squad at this level.

“If you look at the whole bracket, East Juniata is in there and, obviously, they can play. Camp Hill is back again and they were in the final last year, and then you have Fairfield who has the same nucleus back from last year,” she said. “We attribute a lot of our success to what we face in the (Heartland Athletic Conference). The Bloomsburgs, the Midd-Wests and the Centrals and Loyalsocks are great teams and it allows us to go into the postseason battle-tested and prepared.”

The winner of today’s game will face the winner of District 2 champion Montrose and District 3 runner-up Fairfield on Saturday in the state quarterfinals at a time and place to be determined.

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