Seneca Valley keeper steady in net for top-ranked Raiders
By Jerry Clark
Published: Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, 8:13 p.m.
In three seasons as the starting goalie for the Seneca Valley Lady Raiders varsity soccer team, all Jess Neill has done was play her best in the biggest games. In arguably one of the toughest sections in girls soccer that includes powerhouse North Allegheny and perennial playoff contenders in Pine-Richland and Hampton, Neill has boasted a 32-2-2 record against section competition.
That feat impresses head coach Dave Sylvester.
“Jess is a phenomenal player and good kid,” Sylvester said. “She really works hard.”
Seneca Valley enters the WPIAL playoffs as the No. 1 seed in Class AAA.
Neill's play is impressive, especially when one considers how short of a time frame she has been in net for the team.
“I was a forward until my freshman year,” Neill said. “Our keeper got hurt on my club team, so I moved to goal.”
Not only has she continued to improve each game during that time, she has no aspirations of leaving her current position preventing goals to go back to scoring them.
“Playing softball too, my hand-eye coordination is good, so that helps me in goal,” Neill said. “I have to give credit to the team in front of me, too. They are there for me.”
By her admission, Neill said facing shots early and periodically throughout the game helps her stay focused. She said it could get boring back there when her team keeps the ball in the opposing zone.
“Playing in goal takes a lot of mental preparation,” Neill said. “I have to make sure I am in the right spots to cut down the angles. If you are not in position, physical skills won't help you.”
With her positioning often being on point, Neill has good physical skills to complement her soccer IQ.
“Physically, I have to be stronger,” Neill said. “I am short, so I have to be able to jump.”
Neill also serves as a director of the defense, something that she had to take a more active role in without a veteran defender in front of her. With many younger players seeing significant time on defense, Neill said she relies on Alicia Hart, another junior, to help her with communication and direction.
“It's important to be nice to your teammates,” Neill said. “We all have bad games, and you have to understand what it takes to get better.”
Senior Marykate Zahorchak said that having a former forward as a goalie helps in so many facets of the game.
“Jess has saved us in so many games, she stops some shots that seem unpreventable,” Zahorchak said. “She is so smart, she tells us what to do and is just awesome. We would not be where we are without her.”
Despite the large amounts of wins on her resumé, Neill said it might be the loss last year in the WPIAL finals that was her finest showing.
“Even though we lost, I felt it was my best game,” Neill said. “At one point, the game was tied and I stopped repeated shots, high, low, in the corner. … I was really proud of that.”
Before big games, Neill reflects on a quote from her coach. She said it helps her put things in perspective.
“The game does not know it is important, it is you that makes it important,” Neill said. “Making the playoffs means a lot, but we have to remember it is still just another game.”
Jerry Clark is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-779-6979 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Peduto says Penguins playoff series will be economic boon
- Jailed Hribal ‘fine,’ but family ‘terrible’ as answers in stabbing sought
- Authorities plan to withdraw charge against bullied South Fayette student
- Starkey: Fleury’s future at stake
- Cueto gets best of Bucs, as Reds take series
- Authorities close drink tax delinquent Pitcairn bar
- Beaver Co. man indicted on federal sex crime
- New Castle man indicted on federal child porn charge
- Five years later, Crosby wants another Cup win
- Community turns out for Franklin Regional students’ return to class
- WPIAL grants Steel Valley basketball player 5th year of eligibility