For the first time in perhaps two calendar years, the Shady Side Academy girls soccer team is injury-free and playing at full strength.
The Indians were plagued by injury last season and didn't have their full lineup available for the first month of this campaign. But with the WPIAL playoffs about a week away, Shady Side Academy is, at last, completely healthy.
“It's great. We had a little trouble with a lot of (injuries) last year,” senior forward Lia Winter said. “Then a few people got injured at the beginning of the season again, but everyone's back now, and that's great to go into the playoffs with. Now, we get to play (Greensburg Central Catholic) and Springdale again with all our players. Hopefully, that will make the difference.”
At 10-3-1, there isn't much of a difference to be made for the Indians. Two of Shady Side Academy's losses have come to Greensburg Central Catholic, but the Indians did sweep two games from Springdale.
“It's been a big struggle for us the past couple years with injuries,” coach Caswell Nilsen said. “This is about the first time I've had my entire allotment of starters on the field at the same time.
“We're feeling pretty good about the season right now. My big concern is, will the WPIAL seed us appropriately?”
Shady Side Academy believes it can earn a No. 3 seed — something it might be able to do if it can beat undefeated Sewickley Academy on Thursday — to get onto the opposite side of the bracket as presumptive No. 1 Greensburg Central Catholic (10-1).
“We definitely want to make a run,” Winter said. “We hope to be in the WPIAL finals this year — so hopefully we'll see GCC there.”
The team's second-leading scorer, Winter is part of a four-member senior class that also features defender Felicia Tissenbaum, midfielder Holly Stewart and forward Mary McLaughlin. Winter, Tissenbaum and Stewart are captains.
Winter knows about the Shady Side Academy injury bug as well as anybody. She missed all but two games last season.
This season, it's been the Indians other big scorer who's had injury issues. Junior forward Maggie Scott missed two weeks but still leads SSA in goals.
Other juniors who start are Olivia Cochran and midfielder Zoe Schoen. Schoen was one of the players who was injured last season.
“We're just beginning to get our chemistry back,” Nilsen said. “We've had to move people around to make up for some gaps. I think a lot of the girls are really beginning to mature as players, which is great as we're coming into the home stretch here.”
Finally at full strength, Shady Side Academy believes it is peaking — both in health and as players — at the perfect time.
“You look at the girls, and you can see the excitement in their eyes,” Nilsen said. “That's really fun as a coach, when you know they're looking forward to the next game and to the rest of the season. It is a fun time of the year.”
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