Defensive play keys success for Belle Vernon girls
The notion that the best defense is a good offense hasn't really applied to Belle Vernon this year, according to coach Paul Sasko.
“I would flip that around and say that the defense has helped our offense,” Sasko said. “Not only are they a good defensive group, but they also support the attack by getting the ball forward.”
Returning All-WPIAL goalie Ashley Galiardi said that the offense's speed makes it easy for the defense to get the ball to their feet.
“We play a lot of through balls, and Sam (Mendicino) gets to every one,” Galiardi said. “If she's not running to the ball, then Hayden (Pascoe) is.”
With Pascoe, another All-WPIAL selection from last season, leading the offense, it's no surprise the defense's contributions are overlooked.
“(Pascoe)'s not only a goal scorer, she's the pulse of the team,” Sasko said. “She's a hard worker. Not only does she score, but she brings up the energy of the other girls as well.”
The Leopards (11-2, 8-1) have scored 61 goals this season while allowing nine. Galiardi and the back line of seniors Stephanie Morgan and Maggie Lewis and sophomores Marissa Zetty and Courtney Hrycko have posted shutouts in eight of the wins and only allowed one goal in the other three.
So far, the only hiccup in an otherwise stellar season is a 4-2 loss to Section 4-AA leader South Park (11-2-2, 9-0-1). Yet Belle Vernon still controls its own destiny in terms of winning the section title. If the Leopards win their remaining three section games, they'll repeat as champs.
That of course would mean beating South Park in enemy territory at 8 p.m. Saturday in the section finale.
“We talk about staying focused all the time,” Sasko said. “If we were to lose a game prior to the South Park game, then the South Park game is meaningless. Our goal is to win the section.”
If Belle Vernon fails to win out, it won't be for a lack of desire.
“Everyone knows that we have to win to become section champs again,” said Pascoe, who has 23 goals. “I know everyone wants it, but hopefully we play well enough.”
Sasko faces the challenge of keeping his team on track with a brutal stretch of four games in the last week.
“He plans on doing a lot of subbing, and the team is really cool with that,” Galiardi said. “We're going to try to get a lot of fresh bodies on the field.”
Pascoe added: “(Sasko) knows what he's doing, and some players need rest and some players don't need rest. He knows us.”
The team trusts that the potential lineup switches won't throw off the defensive chemistry they've built.
“I've played with all my defenders for so long” Galiardi said. “They listen to me. I listen to them. I'm not worried about any changes.”
And the defense knows they can count on their leading scorer stay on the field.
“I don't get tired,” Pascoe said. “I get banged up, but I don't get tired. They can run me as many times as they want and I'll keep going.
“It's going to be a hard week and we have to take it one game and a time,” Pascoe added, “but I think we're going to be fine.”
Gary Horvath is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.