FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP — To get to the final eight teams statewide in Class 1A in girls soccer, a squad must be doing something right.
Southern Columbia, however, is doing pretty much everything right, as it has in three of the four previous years that saw the Tigers as the last team standing down in Hershey.
With certainty, the Tigers won’t be playing in Hershey this year, and that’s because if they were to win their next two games, the state final they would be participating in will now be held at Eagle View Middle School in Mechanicsburg.
If all four position groups — forwards, midfielders, defenders and goalkeeper — perform the way they have throughout the majority of the season, the Tigers could definitely make a run at a third straight PIAA title.
During Tuesday’s 5-2 first-round win over Montrose, Southern’s midfield and defense harassed the Meteors for a full 80 minutes, consistently intercepting passes and advancing the ball back up into the offensive attack, where they played for a clear majority of the contest.
“It brings us more confidence back there,” said senior defensive leader Emma Genners. “It actually allows us to get up in the attack more. We’re getting our outside backs up, and it just allows us to help out the girls in front of us more.”
“They’ve done a great job,” Southern coach Derek Stine said of his defenders. “Emma Genners looks like a general back there. If you listen to her, she’s controlling everything and she does a great job seeing the field. She’s been our rock in the back all year long. As long as we keep her healthy, I feel pretty confident in not just her, but our other defenders and our defense as a whole. Everyone that plays defense has done a great job for us.”
Not only did that defensive effort lead to Southern tallying 18 shots and scoring five goals or more for the eighth time this year, but also helped the Tigers hold Montrose to recording half as many shots, relieving some of the stress off goalie Quinn Johnston, who’s saving nearly 80 percents of the shots she has faced.
“We like to stay locked in the attack so we don’t have to do as much running, and we don’t have to put Quinn in as many situations that are threatening,” Genners said. “We’ve learned to step up and do our roles in the back, and we’ve gotten much better at that throughout the season.”
“Quinn sees everything from her position and she’s been great for us,” Stine praised.
Even while Southern was on the attack for about 65-70 percent of Tuesday’s playoff match, Johnston kept busy by using her voice to navigate her teammates, using her full-field vision to her advantage.
“I keep watching and keep talking. Communication is a really key part of our team, and Emma is really good at keeping that going up top, and I just try to stay loud and cheer everyone on,” Johnston said.
In her first full season as a starter, the junior qoalkeeper has had no shortage of mentorship, as Mackenzie Palacz — Southern’s starting goalie in 2020 and 2021 — has stayed on as an assistant coach, a move that Johnston says has helped her a lot.
“It’s been great to have her around just because she was the goalie in front of me the last couple years, so I have someone that has the experience, especially in these bigger games,” Johnston said. “It’s really good mentally that she can come back and keep me in check sometimes.”
In addition to Palacz, Johnston’s older sister, Blair, is no stranger to minding the net for the Tigers, as she served as the starting goalkeeper for the 2014 and 2015 teams while Quinn was still in elementary school.
“It’s amazing. She’s my best friend and my biggest supporter,” Quinn Johnston said of her sister. “She always keeps me in check and always comes to my games. She gives me all of her advice and comes out and works with me sometimes when she gets free time. It’s just great to have both of them around.”
SCORING FROM ALL ANGLES
Another key reason for Southern’s continued playoff success has been a diverse scoring output that has seen eight players score or assist on a goal over the past five games.
“Not only is it more rewarding when we get more goals, but it’s rewarding when it’s coming from multiple people,” said senior midfielder Sophie Shadle, who assisted on a goal last night scored by Kennadie Reamer toward the end of the second half. “We just try to get as many people involved in the attack as we can.”
While 37 goals from Loren Gehret — the program’s record holder for career goals — leads the team this season, Reamer currently stands in second with 13 as a freshman. Ava Yancoskie and Peyton Wisloski have 11 apiece, and Shadle has seven to go with her 11 assists, third on the team behind only Gehret (21) and Wisloski (13).
“I don’t care about how often I’m scoring, I just care about us scoring as a team, and it feels just as rewarding to assist on a goal as it does to score one,” said Shadle, who serves as one of the team’s captains.
With Gehret frequently drawing double teams from opposing defenses, additional opportunities continue to present themselves with one of her teammates often being left open due to the extra attention she warrants.
“I know it drives Loren crazy, but it relieves me, Peyton and all of us when everyone is on her because it opens us up and gets more people in the attack,” Shadle said.
The Tigers (15-6-1) travel to Tulpehocken on Saturday at noon to take on District 3 champ Camp Hill in the quarterfinal round of states.
Southern won a regular-season meeting between the two teams on its home turf on Sept. 24 by a score of 6-2.