Waynesburg girls knock off top-seeded Freedom to earn WPIAL Class AA title
Leave it to a Raider to dethrone the defending WPIAL Class AA champions and bring to a halt an impressive 39-game WPIAL winning streak.
Waynesburg did just that. Backed by great goalkeeping and a relentless offensive attack, No. 3-seeded Waynesburg was able to upset top-seeded Freedom, 4-2, to claim the WPIAL Class AA championship Saturday afternoon at Highmark Stadium.
“We were a confident bunch,” Waynesburg coach Joe Kijowski said. “We knew that Freedom was the king on top of the mountain, but we were confident without being too over confident today.”
Waynesburg (19-1) moves into the PIAA tournament and will face the District 10 runner-up Tuesday at a time and site to be determined. Freedom (19-1) will face either the District 8 or 9 champion Tuesday.
Waynesburg played at high speed from onset. Madison Clayton, a Pitt commit and the WPIAL's leading scorer, put the pressure on Freedom goalkeeper Jacklyn Hartle from the start when Clayton missed on a crossing pass. Clayton's miss and the Raiders' pressure up top was just a sign of things to come. Clayton took another crack at Hartle, but the senior keeper tipped the ball over the top of the goal and out of play.
Freshman striker Rhea Kijowski gave Waynesburg the lead when she slipped a shot over Hartle's head with 24 minutes, 59 seconds remaining in the first half.
“First off, we just weren't competing in the midfield,” Freedom coach Colin Williams said. “I tried to push my midfielders into the zone, but it didn't happen and our goalkeeper kept us in the game. We came back strong. We didn't put it away, and we really didn't have a lot challenges. They're a good team.”
While challenges were few and far between in the first half, the Bulldogs missed an opportunity to tie the game when Michaela Watkins beat Waynesburg goalkeeper MacKenzie Booth for what looked like the game-tying goal but an offsides call wiped it off the board. The attack by Watkins was Freedom's lone threat in the first half.
“Our game plan is usually the same, and we've attacked all season,” Kijowski said. “It's just part of the way we play defense, which is to hold onto the ball and try and pressure teams into mistakes.”
The Bulldogs came out of halftime and tied the game almost immediately when Alexsia Barlamas cleaned up a rebound from a Chloe Keller shot and buried it past Booth for the neutralizer. Booth finished with five saves for Waynesburg. Two minutes later, sophomore midfielder Jillian Kijowski beat Booth to her right to give Waynesburg the lead back at 2-1.
“We've played from behind all season, and every time they've responded and they responded today,” Kijowski said. “Getting a goal quickly after they scored theirs was a huge help for us.”
Clayton missed a golden opportunity when she beat Hartle on a breakaway, but senior defender Claire Garber stepped in at the last second to make the save. Hartle finished with 10 saves.
“I was really frustrated about that,” Clayton said about the missed goal. “I tried to forget about it and keep playing.”
Sophomore striker Kylie Sinn added a goal with 27:33 remaining to give the Raiders a 3-1 lead.
Clayton finally got her elusive goal when she beat Hartle with just under 14 minutes to play to extend Waynesburg's lead to 4-1.
“We tried a bunch of different things because we knew that I would be marked,” Clayton said. “I was really frustrated with how I played in the first half with some of the opportunities I missed. In the second half, I knew that I had to pick it up.”
Bulldogs' senior forward Lyndsee Monac brought the score to 4-2 with 4:52 on the clock to compete the scoring.
“Teams have focused on (Clayton) for three or four years,” Kijowski said. “Steadily around her, our team has gotten a ton better. When she came in, she was our only scoring threat as a freshman. She's a great player, a great leader and a great girl.”
William Whalen is a freelance writer.