It might be one of the youngest starting lineups in WPIAL girls soccer this season.
Its coach believes it also might be one of the best.
Yough won nine of its first 10 games and is 6-0 in Section 1-AA after a 5-0 win over Southmoreland on Monday.
The Cougars typically start seven sophomores and three freshmen. As the early-season results have shown, though, a lack of prior varsity experience is not holding them back.
“Even though Yough has never won a girls section title, that was our expectation at the beginning of the year,” first-year Yough coach Dann Appolonia said. “And quite honestly, I think the expectations are higher than that, and we can compete with anyone in Double-A.”
Yough has outscoring its opponents, 63-5 — not bad for a team that starts one senior and no juniors, has a freshman leading scorer and a sophomore goalkeeper.
Following a five-year stretch in which they averaged four wins per season, the Cougars have been gradually building their way back from also-ran to respectability to, now, powerhouse.
Three years ago, Yough had its first non-losing season since 2003. The following year came its first playoff berth in an even longer time, and last season featured tying for second place in the section at 10-4.
The lone senior starter, Taylor Hampshire, has seen that transformation first hand. A midfielder, she rests easy knowing that it's not a mere aberration because of the heavy underclassman influence.
“Honestly, it feels really good to know that we have so many more years of girls that can play and just keep making Yough soccer get stronger and stronger each year,” Hampshire said. “Knowing that, it feels so great to play with girls that love soccer — and that know how to play, too.”
Junior defender Samantha Maughan is ecovering from a knee injury she sustained last season but contributes and serves as a co-captain along with Hampshire.
After that, it's mostly a heavy dose of youth — talented youth.
Freshman Mikayla Mance had 25 goals, according to Appolonia, through eight games.
“It's her tenacity on the ball,” Appolonia said. “She's just a player who never gives up on a play, and she has overall strength and quickness. Even though she's a freshman, you wouldn't think that if you looked at her. She has strength on the ball and is very quick and has a very hard, solid shot.”
Mance isn't Yough's only freshman scorer, however. Shawna Zaken was second on the team in goals through three weeks of the season.
Some of the Cougars' top sophomores include goalies Leigh Appolonia and Kristin Capenos (each plays “out” when the other is in net), central defender Alexandria O'Brien and midfelder Natalie Luppold.
“The past few years, I've been really looking forward to playing with them even though they're two or three years younger than I am,” Hampshire said. “I've known who they've been since middle school. I watched them play and I've seen them pretty much grow up as a team together. To have them playing with me now is just such a great feeling.”
Dann Appolonia lamented the fact that, despite the strong start, his team wasn't yet getting the recognition it deserved. He vowed Yough would change that in time.
“By the end of the year,” said Dann Appolonia, “we'll have opened some eyes.”
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