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PAC women's soccer is crowded at the top

| Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013, 10:06 p.m.
Grove City College Athletics
Senior Sarah Cessar is second on the Grove City women's soccer team with five goals. The Wolverines have outscored their conference opponents 22-6.

There are three unbeaten women's soccer teams in the Presidents' Athletic Conference. Thomas More (5-0) is one. The others are Grove City and Westminster — close geographically, but the methods by which they achieved their status are as opposite as their locations off Route 208.

Grove City has outscored its conference opponents 22-6 in going 5-0. Westminster has gone 4-0-1 while scoring just four goals; the Titans have four 1-0 wins and a 0-0 tie with St. Vincent.

“If my hair was going gray, now I'm losing it probably,” joked Westminster coach Girish Thakar. “The conference is pretty tight, so we'll take any wins we can get right now.”

Thakar's is a young team, mostly freshmen and sophomores, that lost all-region goalie Jenn Cantella to graduation. With so much youth, finding the right combinations was going to take some experimentation, and a spate of early-season injuries necessitated more shuffling.

The alchemy has produced good results, and the Titans found two keepers — Maddie Frech (Kiski Area) and Rachael Letscher — who have split time successfully. Letscher is coming off a career-best eight-save performance against Geneva, and Frech went the distance in the scoreless tie with St. Vincent, making six saves.

“The defense has just been phenomenal this year,” said Maggie Nikituk, a senior midfielder from North Allegheny. “They've really kept us in the games, and that's how we've been getting the results that we have.”

Nikituk added that the team also has drawn motivation from being picked seventh in the preseason coaches' poll.

Grove City is using last year's close call as fuel. The Wolverines lost the conference title to Thomas More on penalty kicks after a scoreless regulation and overtime periods.

Grove City still was able to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, but the sting of coming up short in the PAC championship game lingered.

“We're hoping to be in that position (for a conference title) again,” said senior midfielder Sarah Cessar, who is second on the team with five goals. “We have a lot of talent on our team. We have a lot of forwards that bring a lot of different looks, whether that's with speed or great ball skills.”

That the Wolverines are bombarding the opponents' goal comes as no surprise to coach Melissa Lamie. She knew she had the type of talent returning to put pressure on opposing defenses. Plus, as a former forward, she's never shy about pushing the tempo.

“It's definitely a full team attack. (Our defenders) are very involved in that,” Lamie said. “I am maybe far more interested in how to break down other teams and get goals than I am in stopping the other team.”

Each team has one more hurdle to clear to set up a battle of unbeatens. On Wednesday, Grove City faces Chatham, which has lost 10 in a row, and Westminster should get a tougher test from 6-7 Waynesburg. The Titans and Wolverines face off at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in New Wilmington.

Just four days later, Westminster will take on Thomas More, which has shut out four of its five PAC opponents. Grove City has its date with Thomas More on Nov. 2.

The home stretch of the regular season is set up for plenty of drama, and the Wolverines and Titans are hoping to have a say in the outcome.

“I think we need to win at least two more games to give ourselves a shot (at the playoffs),” Thakar said. “After that, it's single elimination. … You never know. We may sneak in a win here and there.”

Chuck Curti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at ccurti@tribweb.com.

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