Trib Cup: Avonworth girls soccer on the rise
The Avonworth girls soccer team's stock is trending upward.
With back-to-back-to-back trips to the WPIAL playoffs to their credit, the Antelopes have established themselves as a contender for a WPIAL Class A title.
“I definitely think we are on the rise and that's because we have a lot of committed players, and that's shown through their dedication in the offseason,” coach J.C. Mahan said. “Every year, we've seen steady improvement and this year has been no different.”
Their rise to the upper echelon of Class A has the Antelopes featured in the Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award series this week. Avonworth is tied for first place in the Class A standings.
Since taking over at Avonworth in 2007 — a season in which the Antelopes finished 4-12-1 — Mahan has built the team into a formidable contender.
Senior forward Thanna Oddo — the team's leading scorer with 29 goals — has led on the field while senior center back Hannah Croft has been vocal off the field.
Mahan credits each for being the pillars of the program and said their on-the-field talents are second to none.
“Those two have just been so huge and have been so consistent with us,” Mahan said. “Each of them have been playing since they were freshman, so they know what it takes to be winners and how to lead a group.
“Having those two on the field is very comforting as a coach.”
Oddo's offensive cohort is senior Amelia Nahum and Craft's defensive partners in their 3-5-2 formation are senior Mairead McDonagh and junior Shelby Golob.
The midfield has been manned by freshman Emily Paszkiewicz — who has scored 12 goals with nine assists — sophomore Lauren Padalino and junior Abby Grove.
“I think this group just completes our team,” Mahan said. “They are a very skilled, talented group that actually allows Thanna to score goals. And with Hannah's direction from the back they organize and prevent opportunities.”
Sophomore goalkeeper Alex Kirsch was put in the position of replacing all-section goalkeeper Tara Slenska, who started for three years. Mahan was pleasantly surprised with how Kirsch handled the pressure this season.
“She's done a lot of work in the offseason training with the Riverhounds, working on her technique and she's just been fantastic for us,” he said. “We've gotten more than I could have expected from a sophomore.”
Mahan stole a page from legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi's book when describing his satisfaction with how the program has grown over the years. He said it's been a joy to watch the progression over time.
“I think it's gratifying in that I always think of the Lombardi quote of ‘Seek perfection and you'll catch excellence along the way,' ” Mahan paraphrased. “It's always trying to be better. It's that mentality I'm happy with.
“I see the younger girls talking about getting to school and wanting to put their stamp to be there as well.”
Mahan said that the strategy won't change in the offseason, but he hopes the seniors will provide a mental edge that will resonate within the younger players.
“I think just the seniors know that this is their last shot and it's trying to make sure underclassmen realize how important this is and that they may not get this shot again,” he said. “Hopefully, they do. But they have to play every game as if this is your last.”
Brian Graham is a freelance writer.