Road still tough for Mt. Pleasant girls squad
Mt. Pleasant's girls soccer team returns seven starters from last year's playoff squad, but coach Josh Pajak is taking nothing for granted.
“We have a lot of kids back, but we still have a lot of underclassmen,” he said. “To get the kids to keep improving is the main thing. If the kids can continue to improve with experience, we will be in the thick of it.”
Pajak's squad again will compete in always-competitive Section 1-AA along with Derry, Greensburg Salem, Southmoreland, Uniontown, Waynesburg and Yough. Last season, eight of Mt. Pleasant's section games were decided by two goals or fewer.
“We're in a very tough, balanced section,” Pajak said. “Southmoreland has three really talented seniors back, and Yough returns nine or 10 starters. Greensburg Salem has improved, and Waynesburg is always tough. I really think the section will help prepare us for the playoffs if we make it.”
Leading the way for Mt. Pleasant is one of the WPIAL's most prolific scorers: junior Jordan Toohey. She has scored 60 goals in the past two seasons and was named to the all-section and all-WPIAL teams last year.
“She's expected to produce goals,” Pajak said. “She's a very difficult player to defend. She creates a lot of problems.”
Seniors Ellen Brady and Brittany Ruggeri, juniors Claudia Garrity and Rachel Salai and sophomores Eileen Brady and Kasey Brown are the other returning starters. Junior goaltender Anna Riddle tore an ACL, so her return this season remains undecided.
“Claudia Garrity is an excellent defender — one of the best in the conference,” Pajak said. “She's had a great preseason, and I expect her to emerge and come into her own. Rachel Salai had a great offseason from winter through spring, and I think she can become one of the better players in the conference.”
Mt. Pleasant finished fourth in Section 1-AA last season, which was Pajak's first as coach. The Vikings wound up 11-8 after dropping a first-round playoff game to South Park.
Pajak said last year was a good learning experience.
“This preseason has been much more structured to meet our team's needs instead of just going through a feeling-out process,” he said.
“I think it's essential that everybody's on the same page this season. Everybody knows what to expect from each other. I know how the kids play, their strengths and weaknesses.”
Dave Stofcheck is a freelance writer.