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Freeport girls soccer team in position to return to playoffs

| Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013, 11:27 p.m.
Freeport's Megan Manke attempts to push off Highlands' Alyssa Graham during the soccer game at Freeport High School on Monday, September 16, 2013.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Freeport's Megan Manke attempts to push off Highlands' Alyssa Graham during the soccer game at Freeport High School on Monday, September 16, 2013.
Pirates starter Gerrit Cole delivers in the first inning against the Cubs on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013, at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates starter Gerrit Cole delivers in the first inning against the Cubs on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013, at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

It wasn't long ago that the Freeport girls soccer team was a familiar sight in the WPIAL playoffs.

But return to the postseason after missing out for the past two years might be on the horizon after Freeport pulled itself into a three-way tie for second place in Section 2-AA on Monday with its third straight section win, 4-2, at Indiana.

The Yellowjackets (6-4-0, 5-2-0) finished fifth and sixth, respectively, in section play the last two years, but the team now is deadlocked with Highlands and Knoch with the section schedule halfway completed.

“It's really exciting because we haven't made it that far, and I'm really confident in my team,” senior striker Erica Jack said. “When I was a freshman, we made the playoffs, so now being one of the leaders of the team, it feels really good to have a chance at it again.”

From 2001-10, the Yellowjackets reached the postseason seven times, the WPIAL quarterfinals four times, and twice earned a berth in the PIAA tournament by reaching the semifinals. This year's team has placed itself in good position to end the short dry spell this season, its first under coach Maura Allen.

“It's definitely an improvement from last year, and a lot of the girls are really excited about our team,” Allen said. “We do have a ton of potential this year, and we've seen it from the very beginning. Even our freshman coming up are strong, so I'm excited for that, too.”

The Yellowjackets have been finding the net more this season, as they have 31 goals in their first 10 games compared to 25 all of last season. Freeport's top two scorers are its two starting strikers, Jack and junior Megan Manke.

“I think our strength has definitely been in our forward line,” Allen said. “Those two (strikers) have the speed and skill to get behind their defenders, and for us, it's just about capitalizing on those opportunities they create. If we do that, we're good to go.”

Freeport also has a veteran group in defensive roles. Seniors Dava Jack and Stephanie Scheestel and junior Macy Crytzer and Lauren Arnold handle much of a defensive work, while senior Devin Malarik and junior Natalie Martin also start in the midfield.

Behind them is a time share in net, where junior Mayson Kiser and sophomore Raine Carney have split goalkeeping duties, often with each playing a half in each game.

“We have a very strong defense, where my twin sister, Dava, plays,” Erica Jack said. “They've been really good back there for us this year, and Megan Manke and I have always worked well together up top. It's been going real good for us.”

Some younger players contribute for the Yellowjackets in midfield roles, including freshman Olivia Gaspersic and sophomore Katlyn Biondo. And like the rest of the starters, they are expected to play a sound game and be ready to go the full 80 minutes.

“We're looking to be strong in both halves and working a lot on our first touch (on the ball),” Allen said. “Sometimes the smallest things will kill you in a game, so we're working on getting that first touch where we want it.”

For Freeport to extend its winning streak, it would take an upset win over undefeated Mars on Wednesday. From that point, the Yellowjackets finish up with six winnable section games — including one each against Highlands and Knoch — as they push to get back into the WPIAL playoffs.

“Now that we've seen how everyone in our section plays, we can improve on what we've done well,” Erica Jack said. “We had a few bumps at the beginning, just like every team does, but we've gotten a lot better from the start of the year.”

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