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Kittanning girls soccer team heading in right direction

| Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, 10:48 p.m.
Matt Grubba | Leader Times
Kittanning junior forward Kayly Lazaroff dribbles up the field against Riverview on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013, at Lenape Tech. Lazaroff scored two goals for the Wildcats in a 6-1 win, the first for Kittanning's recently revived program.

In little more than a month, Kittanning girls soccer made the leap from start-up program to a team ready for the next step.

After a 6-1 win Sept. 5 over Riverview — the team's first since forming in 2012 — the Wildcats put together separate win streaks of three and four games on the way to a 7-4-0 season that ended Monday with a 9-0 loss to perennial WPIAL title contender Shady Side Academy.

The team, which has players from all three Armstrong School District high schools and played an independent schedule for the second year in a row, made huge strides from 2012, when it finished the season with just two draws to its record. Though the score of the final game was less than flattering, facing a team of the Indians' quality was a necessary step in the program's growth.

“I feel like playing against a better caliber of players is how you improve,” Kittanning coach Crystal Heder said. “I think (playing Shady Side Academy) is good because it puts things in perspective for our girls. They get to see a team that goes to states, and that could be us in the future.”

“We needed to experience that because we're going to be in the WPIAL next year,” junior striker Kayly Lazaroff said. “It's good to see how we're going to need to play next year.”

The Wildcats reached one of their preseason goals by finishing with a winning record, and while it piled on the victories, the team also continued to develop for the future. With just one rostered senior, midfielder Emily Knepshield, there is plenty of room for growth within the current squad entering next year.

Lazaroff and fellow junior Kylie Hagofsky partnered up front to lead an offense that scored 30 goals this season, while defender Gina Roncher and goalkeeper Jordan Bozzelli, both sophomores, anchored the center of the team's defensive half.

With first-year players such as freshman midfielder Natalie Kreiss also stepping into key roles, the second year was a good one for Kittanning.

“I'm really happy with our progress. At the beginning of the year, I could tell it was going to be a good season,” Hagofsky said. “We won a lot more than I expected at the start, and we're excited for next year, when we get to play games that really count.”

Hagofsky was referencing the team's impending move to join a WPIAL section in the district's realignment for next fall, which will give the Wildcats a chance to qualify for postseason play.

Whether or not the team would make the move was up in the air when the season began, but athletic director Todd Harvey confirmed that the team's success this year shows it is ready for the jump.

“I spoke with (Harvey) and told him I think this team can compete at that level. He said, ‘OK, we're behind you, and we're going to do it,'” Heder said.

“The girls were very excited when I told them. They worked so hard, and I think there was a chance we could have made it this year. Next year, they'll get to have goals that are more real.”

The move would be a challenge. By virtue of having half of Ford City's and West Shamokin's female enrollment included with Kittanning's, the team is likely to be placed in Class AAA. Had it played in the WPIAL this year, Kittanning's enrollment number would have been 464, which is 57 over the maximum for Class AA.

Those numbers will change for next year, but the Wildcats say they're ready for whatever the next challenge is.

“I think we'll have more people for our indoor team in the offseason because we did so well,” Hagofsky said. “Hopefully, because we're winning, more people will want to play.”

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mgrubba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Grubba_Trib.

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