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Female kickers leave lasting impression in high school, college

| Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015, 8:54 p.m.
Erica Dietz | Trib Total Media
Highlands' Taylor Gunn kicks an extra point during the first quarter against Apollo-Ridge on Friday, Sept. 11, 2015, at Apollo-Ridge.
Barry Reeger | Trib Total Media
Penn-Trafford senior kicker Casey Aunkst launches a kick out of the hold by Brett Laffoon during P-T's 35-21 win at Hempfield on Oct. 3.
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Kent State kicker April Goss, a Hopewell graduate, warms up before a game against South Alabama on October 19, 2013.

April Goss remembers the mixed reaction she received from some in the community when she tried out for the Hopewell football team during her junior season in 2009.

Although difficult to deal with at first, some of those doubts ultimately made her stronger.

Now a redshirt senior walk-on at Kent State, Goss made history last weekend when she booted an extra point in the Golden Flashes' victory over Delaware State, becoming the second woman in FBS history to score a point.

“Going through everything prepared me to handle whatever I've had to go through here because the reactions of wanting to play college football were escalated immensely,” Goss said. “It was one of the things that helped me grow up a lot. Criticism and adversity should hinder me, but it's something that has helped me so much.”

Once a rarity in WPIAL football, female kickers are becoming much more commonplace. Last week's Allegheny Conference game between Apollo-Ridge and Highlands actually featured two: Megan Bonelli (Apollo-Ridge) and Taylor Gunn (Highlands). Both made all four of their extra-point attempts in regulation before Gunn booted a winning 20-yard field goal in overtime.

In past years, it was difficult to find two female kickers in the entire WPIAL, let alone two starters in the same game.

“Everyone always thinks boys play (football),” said Gunn, a junior, who joined Highlands' roster last season. “Girls can play it, too. Knowing Megan also made four extra points in that game, knowing how good female kickers are doing and how more of them have come to play football is so great.”

Another female kicker is Bethel Park's Kelsey Tischler, who gave up a starting spot on the Black Hawks' soccer team to try out for the football squad. Tischler made two extra points and a 32-yard field goal in the Black Hawks' 28-23 loss to Woodland Hills last week.

“She worked on her craft very diligently throughout the offseason, and we're really excited seeing her work and seeing her out there on Friday night,” Bethel Park coach Jeff Metheny said. “She deserves it. She earned it. We hope she does well. We're going to need her down the road, and I think she'll continue to do well.”

Stephanie Weimer, a 2002 Serra Catholic graduate, became the first female kicker to make an impression in the WPIAL. A four-year kicker for the Eagles, Weimer attempted to walk on for Penn State.

Girl kickers still faced challenges in recent years; Ellwood City's Ashley Lytle fought a district policy forbidding students from playing contact sports on a team of the opposite sex before ultimately joining the football team in 2012.

Casey Aunkst, who kicked for Penn-Trafford last season, said female kickers today are following the example of those who came before them. Aunkst booted three field goals and 57 extra points for the Warriors and said she hears stories of female middle-school students at Penn-Trafford who are interested in playing football.

“It's awesome, and it's great to see people looking up to you and wanting to do what you do and even make a difference and have the confidence to make a difference,” said Aunkst, now a women's soccer player at Duquesne.

Unlike female kickers of the past, Aunkst and Gunn faced little resistance before joining the football teams at their respective schools. In fact, Aunkst's classmates tried to convince her to join the football team for two years before she finally did last fall.

Gunn, also a soccer star for Highlands, tried out for football after discussing it with Highlands coach Sam Albert, her ninth-grade gym teacher. She made the team and played mostly junior varsity as a sophomore, although she kicked two extra points in a varsity game against Burrell.

This year, she's 8 for 8 on extra points along with making the winning field goal against Apollo-Ridge. It was the first field-goal attempt of her career, although she has a range of about 40 yards.

“I focused, and I blocked out everyone,” Gunn said of the winning kick. “I concentrated on the ball, and I just kicked it through the uprights. Whenever (people) were screaming my name, a little rush went through me, but once I stepped out on the field, I (thought), I can do this.”

Gunn can't use the Highlands locker room but has her own locker in the Highlands coaches room. The coaches have a code word for when Gunn enters the room: “mistletoe,” or, perhaps, “missile toe.”

Goss walked on to the Kent State football team in 2012 and kicked the winning extra point in the 2014 spring game, but until Saturday, she'd never played in a contest for the Golden Flashes.

She got her chance after a touchdown that gave Kent State a 28-6 lead. Although her kick sailed to the right, it still went through the uprights. Goss was mobbed by her teammates, who carried her off the field.

“I was a little bummed because when you envision that moment, you envision everything being perfect,” said Goss, who joined the University of New Mexico's Katie Hnida as the only women to score in an FBS game. “But you have your teammates to support you and to pick you up — to literally pick you up. I'll take away that moment more than just the kick itself: the way that my teammates celebrated with me. It just really makes me feel special and blessed to be on this team. They were able to make that moment so much more special.”

With a laugh, Goss said she was jealous of Gunn's winning kick because it was a dream of hers.

But more than that, she's glad to see other female kickers following their own dreams.

“It's so great because it is something to be proud of, just going out there and not just being a girl on the football team but doing what you love despite what everyone says and despite the odds,” Goss said.

“For someone to go out there and follow their dreams, it's really cool, and I feel there's a lot of empowerment in that, being able to go out and do what you want to do.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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